Archive for August, 2012
Internet View of Bouillabaisse Outside, as it was created by fishermen
NJ WILD readers may not know that I am blessed in friendships with two very special food-writers, Pat Tanner and Faith Bahadurian. NJ WILD was named in honor of Faith’s NJ SPICE blog for the Packet. You’ll see a generous comment from Pat Tanner on my recent post on the Brigantine.
We are all three great fans of Julia Child. I can say to them, without protest, “Without Julia, the world of American cooking would still be a desert.”
It’s Julia’s 100th birthday this week — I can never speak of her in the past tense. Therefore, people who relish savory foods, regional foods, traditions of other lands, France in particular, are reminiscing about the years of “The French Chef.” “THE” - what on earth must the French have thought of WGN’s designation of ‘our’ Julia? Faith and I will literally raise a glass to Julia at supper this week.
My children as toddlers, –although none of us cared much for television, inexplicably would insist that their doctor-father and I stop everything whenever ‘Junior Child’s” music came on. We would sit, riveted, in our apartment living room high above the Raritan in New Brunswick, throughout Julia’s culinary journeying.
Is it Julia who saw to it that the girls grew up as omnivores? They came to relish virtually everything, except those tiny fish (”Daddy, they have eyes!”) - petit friture, in Villefranche on the Mediterranean. My most amusing memory is that 1976 morning (you know how they woke you before dawn on flights to France, with that terrible fake American orange juice) when we had just checked in to Voile d’Or in Cap Ferrat, and we had to go straight to the lunch table before the sea-blessed dining room closed. We were with friends from Piscataway, and their two young children who had never been abroad. I remember, all four of them, actually, still rubbing sleep from their eyes. Placed before us as what the French logically call the ‘entree’ were little plates of salad garnished with something pink and mauve. Not only octopus, but baby octopus… Diane and Catherine tried them — wouldn’t choose them for breakfast, but did not reject.
Diane was born a superb cook - so it is fitting that Julia was given an honorary degree by Smith College at Diane’s 1980’s graduation. They eagerly engaged with bouillabaisse in La Napoule-Plage in Provence, at ages 7 and 8, and speaking some French because of Littlebrook School.
In case I owe everything, daughter-and-gastronomy-wise, to Julia, here is the Smithsonian’s site for her recipe. You may know well that Julia’s kitchen, from the show, in its entirety, resides at the Smithsonian Institute. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/bouillabaisse.html
Over this past weekend, educational television featured some iconic Julia episodes, speeding me right back to the black-and-white days of “Junior Childs” with my little girls. In Julia’s honor, and in gratitude to my food-writer friends for our New Jersey gastronomic pilgrimages, I’ll share bouillabaisse memories with NJ WILD.
Faith probably correctly insists that bouillabaisse rituals so clearly remembered would have been the case only at ‘upscale’ restaurants. That word, of course, did not exist when I met this Provencal fishermen’s fish stew in 1964. So, I took out ‘the retrospectroscope’.
Even beyond the rituals, I remember the vividness of bouillabaisse itself. To my dismay, Julia’s black and white film seemed more grey, frankly, than anything — even or especially her ‘tomahtoes’. Provencal bouillabaisse, from La Napoule forward, was a symphony of reds and golds. Even its potatoes were gold because cooked in aromatic Provencal olive oil, onion, garlic, some tomatoes and saffron broth. [Not Yukon gold which didn't exist then, whether or not they do now in France.] The ‘toasts’ — so carefully placed in the bottom of each flat soup bowl, and served before any of the fish-of-the-rocks, which were steamingly and artistically mounted on a huge platter on a side table–, were golden-brown from long slow baking, probably in a wood-fired oven.
Saffron Fronds, from Internet
Rouille was mandatory on those toasts - opulent mayonnaise of olive oil carefully pounded to life in a mortar with garlic and the finest of chili pepper and cayenne. The subtle pungency of saffron, essential and impossible to describe, colored both flavor and hue of this redolent broth.
A few tomatoes had been newly cut and added, just enough to add color and piquancy, but not to melt into the final soup. Lobster and shrimp were never part of any Provencal bouillabaisse we found, from 1964 through 1988, when I ultimately lived the seasons round above Cannes. Rascasse was the essential fish - I found it rather like red snapper.
All fish, originally, for this specialty, had been the discards, the ones Marseilles fishermen could not sell at “le criee” - (the crying of the fishwives after the boats returned) each afternoon in that hopping port town. It was a point of pride never to be out more than a few hours, so that the fish in my Cannes market were always literally leaping off their oil-cloth-covered tables - and I usually shopped before mid-day. The fishermen of that region would then put a cast iron pot over a beach fire, add some sea water, and create this miracle. I’m assuming they knew to bring a folded paper of saffron always in a pocket remote from water.
Bouillabaisse Over Open Fire, as ‘invented’
By the time it became popular with travellers, it was the norm to serve ritually. First the fish were removed and artfully pyramided. Then the toasts were settled into the bowls, with the rouille passed so one could mound as much as desired onto the ‘toasts’. Then the broth was ladled with, yes, reverence. Rising steam brought the essence of sea, garlic, saffron, tomatoes and subtlest hints of all the varied fish. How could I forget — grains of fennel seed and usually unseen, because evolved into this masterful creation, dried orange peel, probably from Menton.
Grains of Fennel, from Internet
One of the reasons I don’t even think of making bouillabaisse myself is that I no longer live in Provence. Not only would I be lacking rascasse and gurnard and spider crabs and pretty often sea urchins. But even the orange peel would be from California or Florida and probably dyed and never so tangy as any citrus from Provence.
At La Mere Something in La Napoule-Plage, with my husband in 1964 and our family in 1971, waitresses were dressed in Provencal costume as immortalized by Vincent van Gogh and the poet Mistral in Arles. Their arrangement of the fish was a kind of ballet.
The soup bowls were removed after one or two fillings, and then the paradise of freshest fish arrived.
Without the costumes, eating in plainer but memorable bouillabaisse sites, there was also ritual. Particularly famous, though no-nonsense, were Nounou and Tetou (separate establishments side-by-side-, I remember them as IN the sea,) at Juan-les-Pins. I feasted on bouillabaisse on a rainy day (rare!) with friends from Morristown, along with my daughters, on our Mother’s Day trip, May 1984. Nounou and Tetou were points of bouillabaisse pilgrimage with Valerie Meluskey of Princeton, and other guests from home during 1987-88. One of my guests had an aversion to fish, which he swallowed (pun intended) there. This man was immediately won over, even though the Mediterranean was grey and rain-dimpled throughout our water-surrounded experience.
Another bouillabaisse ritual I can never forget was carried out by the elegant proprietress herself, across from Voile d’Or in Cap Ferrat. I experienced this with my lifelong Michigan friend, Bernadette Thibodeau, when we ‘discovered’ Provence in February of 1976. I returned with my daughter, Diane and Valerie Meluskey and Hope Cobb from Princeton in January of 1981. January and February became my favorite Provencal months, because of the fragrant blossoming of mimosa trees and almond trees, at the same time! Their aroma filled closed cars, even as we drove away from the sea into the pre-Alps.
The one ritual I did not fully enjoy was at Restaurant Bacon, in 1988. With me was my new French friend, Jeanette, who managed the Observatoire Tower, next to which I lived above Cannes. She had helped me so much that entire year. Bacon was also on the Med but not in it — I think Antibes, near the Picasso castle. Bacon was the place to go then for bouillabaisse, but it did, indeed, turn out to be fancy. My friend, though she lived in Provence, [frequently the case when I took neighbors to favorite restaurants], had never tasted that regional specialty! Fame had gone to the head of that restaurant. My guest did not realize that we were not tasting the authentic specialty, nor that Bacon’s ritual outshone his soup. Rouille notwithstanding, the flavors did not sing. That soup and/or Bacon didn’t have Provencal soul!
Faith wanted to know if I’d managed hole-in-the-wall destinations for bouillabaisse. Frankly, no. The best were in Marseilles. I went there any number of times, returning to eat somewhere in the Esterel Forest or along that red-rock coast. Marseilles was a thorough city, beyond bustling. It was a tumult of traffic and shouting people. Its streets seemed all all one way the wrong way. Signs blazoned defense d’entrier! — do not enter. I, who’d traveled almost everywhere alone that year, never could find a place to park to walk the Canebiere.
What I’d do after these fruitless bouillabaisse quests was drive home and read Pagnol’s Fanny, Marius and then Cesar… These three volumes sent me to my Provencal neighbors for translation of patois, but were absolutely irresistible in terms of the characters. Central to the stories was Panisse, for whom Alice Waters named her iconic California restaurant, from which America learned the miracles of local food.
The French Oscar is named Cesar because of Pagnol’s Marseilles trilogy. Hardly anyone knows that this quiet man of Aubagne and thereabouts founded and funded the film industry. Pagnol wrote, cast, directed, produced and filmed legendary movies on Provence. You know Jean de Florette and Manon les Sources – the world doesn’t always realize that this renowned teacher who specialized in Shakespeare also is the author of those spectacular books. And La Gloire de Mon Pere and Le Chateau de Ma Mere, — memoirs we also saw as films in our country. In fact, all my friends at home saw the Pagnols before I did, in Provence.
In Cannes, I ‘virtualed’ Marseilles with Pagnol.
In Princeton, I do the same with Julia Child. But that grey soup she served up this past weekend bears no resemblance to the vivid ones that piqued journey after journey to the unique authentic South of France.
Even so, it’s clear to me that there will be no ‘next Julia Chlld.’ That no one can equal her, let alone surpass Julia, as a person and as influence on our cuisine.
Far beyond the kitchen, Julia Child brought America out of its crippling provincialism.
Thank you, forever, Julia — and Happy Birthday!
Pine Barrens Peat Water, Mullica River cfe
Between drought and development, it is hard for others, even for New Jersey natives, to credit our slogan, “The Garden State.”
NJ WILD readers know, I celebrate New Jersey’s wild beauty wherever and whenever I can find it, even right in my own (near Rocky Hill) rocky hilly foresty yard.
But sometimes, I must go far afield, gulp great ‘draughts’ of New Jersey Beauty.
As. recently, to and from my cherished ‘Brigantine’ - Wildlife Refuge, otherwise known as Edwin B. Forsythe.
The blessings of visiting ‘the Brig’ are beyond measure, starting with the long silent even winding drive through the Pine Barrens to Smithville and Oceanville. Due east of those tiny pre-Revolutionary towns stretches the 8-mile dike drive among bays and impoundments, rare birds at all times and in all seasons.
Come along with me on last week’s spur-of-the-moment, if not even desperate, flight to beauty.
Queen Anne’s Lace, Mullica River, Pine Barrens cfe
Beyond the dock, fortunate kayakers make their way up the Mullica, without whose Revolutionary waters and watermen, we wouldn’t have a nation:
Mullica Kayakers, cfe
Cloud-Studded Salinity-Managed Waters of Brigantine cfe
FIDDLER CRABS, OUT FOR LOW-TIDE LUNCH, Brig cfe
NEW JERSEY BEAUTY - CLOUD MAJESTY Brig cfe
There were great egrets everywhere, like archangels at the Nativity, as well as black-bellied and American golden plovers, ibis beyond counting, a few skimmers not skimming, and osprey families everywhere we looked — some feeding young, one ‘mantling ‘ - waving mature wings to cool the immature!
Successful Osprey Family, The Brig cfe
Duck and First Marsh Mallows of the Season cfe
Glossy Ibis and Marsh Mallow, Brig cfe
Wild Flowers (water lilies and Sagittaria) and Cranberry Bogs Near Chatsworth, #563,
The Empty, Beauty-Bracketed Route Home cfe
As you can see, beauty and wildness are with you every step of the way to and from ‘The Brig.’
(”The Pretty Way” will have no cars to speak of, even on major holidays. Route 1 South to 295 South to Columbus Exit to 206 South to Carranza Road/Tabernacle to 532 (stop at Russo’s for fresh-made cider doughnuts and very local produce). 532 east to 563 South to (I forget the number -[579?]) left to New Gretna below Chatsworth Route 9 South, moments on GSP, Exit 48 Smithville, back onto Route 9 South below Smithville to left turn to Forsythe Wildlife Refuge after fire station, Lily Lake Road. See Noyes Museum of Art while down there. Eat breakfast at The Bakery in Smithville; any time at Smithville Inn, and Oyster Creek Inn at Leeds Point, if it’s open when you’re there…)