Happiness Recipes (food!)

Pumpkin fondu           (Photo Z Worthington)

Theoretically Spring is around the corner, but Winter is still with us, at least until next week’s Equinox, with more snow and freezing temperatures on the way this weekend, now called the “Helsinki-Paris”… So before I say goodbye to the cold, here are two recipes I discovered this year and want to celebrate because they really brightened our spirits and table.

Why do I think about cooking and restaurants so much? Because I really believe that preparing and serving good food consciously is a form of social and ecological activism that fosters genetic diversity and sustainable, human-scale farming! It’s also a way to honor cultural traditions and life in general. When I attended “Les secrets du chef” (Chef’s Secrets) evenings at the Cordon Bleu school, I learned that every dish is a hologram of history, geography, evolution, language, and sensuality.  We know how the taste for spices resulted in trade routes across the globe, but did you know that following schools of cod led the Vikings to the New World? The ways this fish was caught and preserved, with smoke, salt, and air drying, provided livelihoods, terms, and tools for many people over centuries…No wonder the Cordon Bleu chefs speak so passionately about their ingredients…

So, recipe number one: Pumpkin and Cheese Fondue, but not just any old pumpkin, please. It has to be potimarron, much sweeter than other varieties. The English call it Red Kuri Squash, other names incude: “Japanese squash”, “orange Hokkaido squash”, and “baby red hubbard squash.” Personally I had never seen or tasted it before coming to France. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_kuri_squash

And not just any old cheese, please. Reblochon is my pick (although some people swear by camembert). In Sainsbury’s Book of Food, Frances Bissell describes Reblochon as “One  of France’s great mountain cheeses… made in Haute-Savoie, semisoft, with a yellowish brown rind and a gentle fruity flavor… sold in flat rounds set on thin wooden slices.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reblochon

Here’s one of my favorites, made with raw milk, vive la France:DSC04179Ingredients:

1 medium potimarron

2 small (or 1 large) raw milk reblochon cheeses, depending on availability

Pecans or walnuts, sprigs of fresh thyme, salt, freshly ground pepper, honey

Cut a hole in the top of the potimarron, large enough to insert the cheeses, scoop out the seeds and some of the pulp (to be saved for soup). Cut off the pointed tip under the potimarron so it sits firmly on a baking sheet or in a glass pie dish. Salt and pepper the inside.

Slice excess rind off cheeses and insert each in the potimarron, making small cuts in each top for pecan or walnut halves. Sprinkle with fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. Drizzle with honey. Replace the potimarron “hat.”

Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 45 minutes then turn oven up to 410°F (210°C) for 10 minutes, or until the potimarron is tender when tested with a fork and the cheese has melted and blended together.

Remove from oven, take off “hat,” dip fresh baguette chunks (or other delicious bread) in cheese mixture, then use forks to carve out pieces of potimarron drenched in cheese 🙂

Enjoy! PS when I made this the first time, the small reblochons fit inside easily, the times and temperatures were perfect and the cheese was bubbly without further baking. The second time I used one larger reblochon cut into pieces to fit. I followed the instructions to the letter, but had to add cooking time. Third try, I used small cheeses again but had to add cooking time. In an emergency, you can use a microwave for the finishing touch. In other words, improvisation may be required… Leftover potimarron is fabulous mashed and reheated later as a side-dish. 🙂

Recipe 2: Mini Mushroom Crissants, made with Sylvia’s Wild Mushroom-Chestnut Fricassee (courtesy of Sylvia Sabes, my favorite travel and lifestyle guru)DSC04062

Sylvia’s Mushroom Chestnut Fricassee (great vegan dish to include in holiday menus!)

Go to Picard (France’s gourmet frozen food chain) and buy morilles (morels), baby cèpes (ceps, porcinis), girolles (not the same as chanterelles, but I guess you can substitute these in a pinch) and pre-cooked chestnuts. The quantity depends on how many people you have to feed. Sylvia uses 3 packages of each mushroom for one of chestnuts.

Sauté the mushrooms (in olive oil if going for vegan, otherwise in butter), one kind at a time, being careful to drain off the liquid as you go (and freeze it for soups). Morels 10 minutes, then cèpes for 3 minutes, add chestnuts and girolles and sauté for another 7 minutes (refer to package instructions).

I had this at Sylvia’s for Thanksgiving and it was amazing. All the mushrooms were nicely browned with the chestnuts, tender and chewy. When I made it, I must not have drained off the liquid the right way because it got a little soupy and I had to thicken it for a while, which changed the texture.  I added garlic, Adobo (salty lemon and herb mixture), sweet paprika, and lots of pepper. Then I shaped it into a round “patties” with a metal circle form and plated it with arugula dressed with virgin olive oil, balsamic, and fresh parsley. Huge success! I had a lot left over, and a party coming up, which gave me the idea for the mini croissants (pictured above). The day of the party, I bought puff pastry, cut it into triangles, stuffed it with the mushroom filling, and baked in a medium oven until brown. DSC04059Next time, I’ll baste with egg yolk to get the perfect golden finish. No one noticed I hadn’t done that, big success, and leftovers can be reheated… For more brilliant inspiration from Sylvia Sabes: http://www.facebook.com/LoveOnlyNParis/

To be continued xxxxx Aliss



How to be your own Valentine (and outsmart winter blues)


So, as planned,  I made Christmas last until the end of January. Then decorations were put away, tree recycled,  pictures sorted, cards sent, presents played with, playlists turned off, virus waned, work and life went on along with the darkest winter in three decades, heavy, gray, damp. Jealous of NY weather, I grumbled, “This is it, I’m done, have to move to a place where I can see snow”.. and presto-change-o, Lumos Maxima! This week we had the biggest Paris snowfall in 30+ years, 10 inches in 24 hours… Suddenly lightness and brightness instead of gloom.DSC04122.JPG

Later in the week, the sun was even shining on the snowy roofs and city gardens.

Of course it wasn’t all fun. People were slipping on icy pavements, or stuck in cars and transportation. (Not to mention the homeless and refugees living on the streets.) Thirteen beautiful trees keeled over in our Buttes Chaumont park up the hill.

In any case, a big life lesson. Everything can change in a few hours…

But, we’re not “out of the woods” yet. Spring doesn’t arrive for another 7 weeks and knowing this part of the world, we could definitely enter a depressing weather tunnel again. So here are some strategies to outsmart the end of winter:

  • Be your own Valentine! Create an atmosphere of “anything can happen” expectancy. Make a list of things you love to receive and enjoy–hugs, flowers, pretty chocolates, massages, pedicures, compliments, cards and postcards, dinner invitations, high tea invitations, party invitations, concert/theater/museum tickets, hearing a favorite song, “I love you” texts in your inbox, trip to the pool, a walk in a beautiful landscape, vacation plans, flattering pix of yourself, happy pix of you with people you love, smiles, fun movies… Whatever your heart desires. Write each one on a piece of paper, fold up and put in a jar or box by your computer, labeled “Open Me.” Then open one a day until Valentine’s Day (and beyond) and give these things to yourself within 24 hours, or at least schedule it. (I guarantee you won’t remember the entire list and you’ll get a spontaneous lift.)
  • Even better! Turn the energy around. Be everyone’s Valentine! Give yourself all of the above and invite a special person or people to join you. Giving is receiving, right?  You’ll get a love boomerang!
  • Music! How to create a magic holiday updraft? Back in the 60’s, French otolaryngologist Alfred Tomatis discovered that Mozart violin concertos stimulate the cerebral cortex, creativity, optimism, and calm efficiency. Researchers theorize that it’s about inducing beta waves in the brain. Who knows. Try it and see. Another good bet: the complete works of the Beatles in chronological order, Irish bands Kila and Solas, Bretons Alan Stivell and Dan Ar Braz will get your blood moving (let me know if you suddenly start repainting and remodeling your apartment single-handedly). You can experiment with light transe-inducing gamelan, dance to “Happy” by Pharrel and “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk, float to Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, or maybe your taste runs to Macklemore, whatever, have fun, see what works!!
  • Have a crepe party! La Chandeleur was earlier in the week and Mardi Gras falls on February 13th, two occasions to make dinner pancakes! Organic hard apple and pear ciders are prominently displayed on grocery store shelves, buck wheat crepes grilled in big skillets with your choice of cheese, mushrooms, ham, egg yolk, sautéd onions or shallots, sour cream… plus green salad on the side, is very festive, you’ll see.*
  • Take advantage of these weeks to make other winter recipes that are easy to burn off in cold weather. Some new faves: Reblochon fondue in roasted potimaron pumpkins, wild mushroom fricassee (thank you Sylvia Sabes) 🙂 Leftovers from both of these can be turned into soups and fabulous mini mushroom croissants… Pumpkin fonduDSC04062
  • Details coming… (Thank you Z Worthington for the fondue picture)

*Got these dates mixed up at first but now they’re correct 🙂

To be continued xxxxx Aliss


Film…and Fromage

(Photo of Bruno Toussaint, Fabrice Humbert, and me, by Wendy Rohm)12916711_10206764390247902_494156039573775405_o

Where can you enjoy the passion and erudition of Cinema Master Bruno Toussaint followed by a gourmet cheese tasting with assorted wines? Only at Paris Writers’ Retreats sponsored by the Rohm Agency pariswritersretreat.com. Bruno entertained and enlightened us with a weekend of insights into the art of story telling through image and sound. His outlines are clear and to the point, with rich video illustrations from the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Francis Coppola, Andrew Stanton, and Darren Aronofsky. Against a soothing background of bâteaux-mouches gliding by on the Seine just outside a tall French window, lively discussions and inspired readings by our ensemble cast of witty luminaries (novelists, non-fiction writers, and searchers) added to the festivities, guided by Bruno’s skilful moderating and sense of humor. Then, each evening he initiated us into the artistry and mysteries of fromage:

DSC02673The Master presents platter number one (plan américain), in ascending order of sophistication,DSC02670cutting to the chase in a close up (knife clicks metallically on ceramic surface).

DSC02671Dolly out for daring knee-shot of our hostess, behind her always-stunning table (still-life chiaroscuro painstakingly researched at the Louvre).

Leading ladies in group shot by Fabrice…12977285_10206772563532229_3692852297497162057_oAliss, Anne, Karin, Wendy, Bruno, Susan, Letitia (laughter, toasts, clinking of glasses).

12967904_10206764660254652_2240648670203855480_oDialogs with our leading men, photo by Wendy…


DSC02665 Establishing shot from Wendy’s door towards Notre Dame.DSC02663Zoom out, looking west from Pont Marie (Parisian traffic noise in the distance)…

To be continued…


French Religion?


(Came across some notes I wrote a few years back for a friend who wanted to do stand up. Relevant?)

France has heart, and it has other body parts, like noses and taste buds. No matter what you’ve heard, the truth is the French are not Catholic or Protestant or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist. They’re Foodist. Fundamentalist Foodist.

You may have heard of those people in Northern Scotland? The Findhorn Community? They caused a stir in the 70’s when they grew these humongous vegetables in very extreme and inhospitable climactic conditions because they could communicate with the spirits of plants, which the French have always known how to do.

They have a special relationship with their food. They worship food. Food is God. And the way they recognise the presence of the Divine is through their sense of smell.

Here’s another difference between the French and the Americans:

Americans won’t eat something that smells. The French won’t eat something unless it smells. It has to have an odor to get their attention. Think of the several hundred French cheeses, each with its genetically diverse flora and fauna.

Americans have all these obsessions about food and actually the defining quality of a person now when they enter a room is they announce what they do and do not eat, it’s part of their persona. Americans, when they introduce themselves, tell you right off the bat what they will and won’t eat. It used to be horoscopes. “Hi, I’m Lisa, I’m a Libra, Hi I’m Linda, I’m a Capricorn.” Now, it’s, “Hi I’m Joe, I’ve completely eliminated carbohydrates.”

Everybody in North America is on some kind of wierd dietary experiment. Forget about being vegetarian and vegetalian and vegan. That’s old hat. We’ve gone to a new level of hardcore food obsessions.

Americans evaluate their food in terms of chemical compounds, like their bodies are some kind of mechanical assembly line that will only take specific elements in specific orders. It’s becoming harder and harder to have a meal with a group of Americans. You just can’t come up with a menu that can be eaten by more than yourself. It’s a nightmare. I had this experience of being at the table with a mixed group of French and Americans and it was really incredible. French people lovingly peruse the menu, trying to figure out all these arcane terms that not even French people understand, it takes forever, it’s like foreplay….. The French were lovingly swirling their wine in their wine glasses and admiring the robe, the thigh, deeply inhaling the bouquet .. This is before even tasting it. The Americans were saying, “Could you pass me some more of that red anti-oxydant with tannin?” The French are spreading goat cheese on their crispy baguette, they’re savoring every bite and talking about things like terroir, tracing the origin and the ancestry of the goat, all the way back to Charlemagne…. The Americans were saying, “I’d really like more of that calcium with the high lipid content, but I have to cut down on animal fat.” “Those carbohydrates look very crunchy but I go into anaphylactic shock at the sight of gluten.”

 So food is really a problem. Beyond mad cow, beyond genetically modified organisms… no one is talking about the human problem. The real problem might not be the food, it might be the people….