Sunday, July 17, 2011

Le Dîner est Servi!

After much hesitation, I finally caved and watched "Julie and Julia".  As I suspected, it was terrible, but the food...the bubbling butter, the sizzling interest was piqued, to say the least. After my Macarons debacle, I lost my passion for attempting challenging recipes, but seeing those delicious creations reignited my passion for cooking elaborate meals.  It was then that two of my favorite friends were invited to my very first (monthly? quarterly? annual?) French dinner.  

I'd like to say I looked like this, but no.

Luckily, my two lovely guests gave me ample time to finish cooking, and avoided seeing me on the ground, surrounded by ice cubes and piles of salt, attempting to make ice cream.  My new apron was covered in splotches of wine and bits of butter clung to my silk dress, but the results were well worth the unexpected effort.

It needs to be mentioned that my very thoughtful friends brought a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a bouquet of purple flowers, both of which added an exciting zest to the evening.  Also worth noting: my new apron clearly outlining that I am Le Chef, in case anyone should wonder why I'm on the floor surrounded by said ice and salt.

Pouring wine involves a great deal of focus

 Because the meal was going to be heavy and hearty, I chose a light hors d'oeuvres option - Crottin Tartines with Mango Chutney - to 'ease' my unsuspecting guests into what was to come.  I used goat cheese instead of the Crottin de Chavignol cheese so I suppose they're more Goat Tartines, but that doesn't sound as embellished as the original title.

Crottin Tartines with Mango Chutney

While I'm not a fan of cauliflower, this fluffy Cauliflower Soup with Chervil was a great Entrée choice because of its fluffiness.  The butter, milk and potato overshadowed the cauliflower, forming a smooth and creamy soup . While Rachael was a bit reluctant to eat the chervil leaves, I found them to blend very well with the gentle aroma of the soup.  

Cauliflower Soup with Chervil

I  had Boeuf Bourgignon in Paris for the first time, and it was the best meal I've ever eaten in my life.  Even before I picked up the recipe book for this dinner, I knew it would be my Plat Principal.  I have never bought beef before, and really didn't know what I was doing, but the butchers at my grocery store were very nice and helpful. Truthfully, I think this is the one and only time I will ever attempt to cook beef, but once again, worth the five hours of cooking and preparation, and everyone seemed to enjoy the final product. 

Boeuf Bourgignon

For dessert, I chose Poached Pears with Crème Fraiche Ice Cream, which involved soaking pears in Merlot for about...eighty-five years.  Seriously, I didn't think I'd ever see those pears again.  Yet, there they were, days later, having fully absorbed the aroma of the red wine, ready for our enjoyment. I topped them with more red wine reduction, a cream and rosemary mix, and a dollop of - yes - homemade Crème Fraiche ice cream, which was actually surprisingly the part that took the longest to prepare (two days!).  The ice cream quickly melted, but its sweetness was a perfect pairing for the tangy pears. 

Poached Pears with Crème Fraiche Ice Cream

I'm very lucky to have such patient and hungry friends to sample my culinary attempts, and just as lucky to have a sister to eagerly run out and grab forgotten bags of flour from the grocery store.   

Rachael, Le Chef, and Anais

The towers of dirty dishes make me laugh now.  It's funny to think that so many bowls, spoons, and cups were needed for such a seemingly short affair.  I'd like to think that it was more than that: the experience of shelling the pearl onions, the sliced garlic, the cream and sugar melting into each other...maybe cooking is just as much about the journey as the destination.  I'd also like to think that these hunks agree.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On Happiness (Or Brace Yourselves, Really)

A few days ago I almost made a decision that would’ve left my apartment and credit card bare for the next 6 months.  I was struggling to understand why I was facing certain adversities, but most of all, I was struggling to understand why amidst all of them, I was still happy.  This happiness came as a shock to me because there didn’t seem to be anything really ‘there’ to evoke it.  So, I thought, “I need to nourish this happiness by living in a country that has always made me happy.”  In all honesty, I was afraid that maybe I was going nuts, and that the happiness would fade away, so I wanted to secure it by being in a place that I thought could make me happy even when the feelings wore off.  The flights were pretty expensive, and the flats I found were somewhat seedy, so I needed to make sure I was investing in the right decision.  It was then that I started thinking about the way I felt, and, coupled with some interesting readings, somehow, thankfully, came to the conclusion below.  I must warn you, this isn’t a blog entry about my new coat or scarf, but I really think that this knowledge could benefit everyone, no matter how style-savvy. 

My teacher of fearless love: my cat Nousha

Clearly my ideas of happiness have been a little side-tracked over the past several years (or, dare I suggest for all of my life?)but I now think (I don’t want to sound like a dick and say ‘know’) the following: Happiness is inside us, unconditionally. It’s our compassion, our thoughtfulness, our patience. It’s our ability to laugh, and to forgive, and our capacity to love, among many other things.   Despite the fact that that bouquet of peonies or Prada heels seemed to evoke a sense of happiness in our hearts, happiness never really comes and goes, but we make the decision to feel it.  A man will wake up tomorrow, look at the rising sun and feel happy.  Later that day, another man will get a promotion at work, and feel just as happy.  Different stimuli, same feeling.  Happiness, then, cannot simply be considered a ‘by-product’, but our ability to let ourselves be happy at any given moment. 

A view of London from the bridge. How can this not make someone happy?

 Someone once said to me, “I don’t make you feel this way.  You make yourself feel it.”  At the time I was very angry and was convinced that the emotions were basically ‘handed over’ to me by this person’s actions, but the fact of the matter is: we choose to accept the happiness within us, or to reject it and embrace some other emotion.  When we rely on others or other things to make us happy, we can’t avoid living in fear. We fear losing this person or thing (my recent blog on talks about just that – my fear of wearing my Marc Jacobs bag because it made me so happy) and we hold on to it so tightly that we cripple our ability to see the happiness within us.  And with all that fear consuming your heart, there isn’t much place left for love.  Love, I think, is giving one another the opportunity to express that very happiness that is within us, and our appreciation of another person’s capacity for all of the things mentioned above.   

Okay, okay, I'll admit I still love the occasional bouquet of flowers...

 The moment I understood this is the moment I moved myself away from the computer and put my passport back on the shelf.  London can’t make me happy- only I can.
Dear friends, if you love your Prada shoes, max out your Visa. If you love travelling, then travel on. But remember that happiness isn’t where you’re going, but there, with you, even before you’ve left.  Or, as Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Because I’m trying to maintain the guise of writing a fashion blog, I’ll mention that Versace is collaborating with H&M, with the special day being in November.  Mkay wow, no big deal.