Welcome to The Aix-Files

Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my
blog postings inspired by my year in and around
Aix-en-Provence. The spot includes travel tips,
discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,
cultural events, interviews and historical
tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!



Sunday, November 21, 2010

La Coiffure




I chuckled when Shelley, my hairdresser at home, expressed concern. “What will you do about a hairdresser in France?” she wondered. What she didn’t realize is that in France you find a hairdresser on practically every street corner. Even the smallest village that barely supports a church or bar will have a hairdresser. So I was not worried. Plus I had a good recommendation from Madame upstairs for a place just around the corner. My first French coiffure.

I was a bit concerned, though, when I met Nicolas. He is bald. I always figure you can tell something about a hairdresser by his or her own hairstyle. So in this case I had no way of knowing. It turns out I had nothing to worry about. It was a truly glorious experience. I swear he washed my hair for a full fifteen minutes, with massage, the works. I happily passed the time leafing through the latest edition of Paris Match while sipping a cup of tea. I even learned a few new words in French (une mèche is a lock of hair). After two and a half hours of pampering, as I unloaded my wallet, I caught another glimpse of my new look in the mirror and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Then I stepped into the street, into the fierce mistral.

OTHER THINGS YOU FIND ON EVERY STREET CORNER:
-Cafés and bars

-Boulangeries (bakeries)
-Parfumeries
-Lingerie shops
-Crèpe stalls
-Pharmacies
-Real Estate Agents (apparently everyone, including everyone in France, wants to move to Aix)


FASHION TRENDS, AS I’VE OBSERVED:
-Men with buzz cuts
-Men with really bushy hair, blown from the back (imagine riding on a motorcycle backwards)
-Men with pink shirts. And pink ties.
-Men and women in striped shirts (think sailors)
-Women in mumus (in summer)-Women in skimpy floor-length sundresses
-Women with underwear hanging out all over the place – all women, not just young girls
-Big belts
-Big purses
-Big scarves, now that it’s getting a bit colder
-Anything gray
-Leggings with crazy designs
-Crinolines

INGREDIENT OF THE WEEK: WILD MUSHROOMS
‘Tis the season. Anyone who knows Jim knows his passion for wild mushrooms, of any kind. He loves coming to the market with me on Saturday mornings because that is when the mushroom man has his best selection. There are literally heaps and heaps of them. He’ll happily pass an hour going from a pile of cèpes to chanterelles (golden or grey), trompettes de la mort (black ones), girolles, mousserons or lactaires, examining them carefully, chatting with the vender.

RECIPE: FRICASSÉE OF WILD MUSHROOMS
The day of my hair appointment, I was away so long Jim was waiting for me on the front step, thinking I had maybe been locked out. This was a good day for him to take charge in the kitchen and prepare the mushrooms. This recipe is adapted from the Atelier des Chefs, where I have now had several courses. You can serve it on a bed of baby spinach with a soft-boiled egg on top, as we did, as a first course, or serve it alongside some beef, duck or chicken.

Start with a bunch of wild mushrooms of the season (or one choice variety). We used many of the ones listed above, but be sure to choose the freshest possible. Personally, I would say, if you have cèpes, I would use them alone, rather than mix them with the rest. Clean them carefully with a brush and a tiny knife to knock out the little bits of earth and grass (if you insist on washing them, do it as briefly as possible. Jim never washes his). If they are large, cut or tear them into bite-size piece. Sear the mushrooms very quickly in a very hot pan with olive oil (Jim prefers butter to olive oil, but then you have to watch that the butter doesn’t burn. So you can also use a combination of butter and oil). The mushrooms will give off some water. In our class we simply poured the water off, but at home we keep these juices for another purpose or reduce them to be part of the finished product.

Meanwhile, boil some eggs, one per person. Let them simmer for around 4 and a half minutes after they come to a boil. Cool them a bit under cold water, then peel.

To your warm mushroom pan, add some lardons (chopped-up bacon) and let them soften, then add in some chopped shallots. Add back the mushrooms and cook again over high heat, seasoning with salt and pepper. You want them to brown a bit, not get soft and mushy. Just at the end of cooking, add some chopped chives and a small knob of butter. Set the mushrooms aside. To the pan add some sherry vinegar and stir, scraping, to dissolve the brown bits. Reduce it to the consistency of a sauce.

When you are ready to serve, spread some tiny spinach leaves onto each plate (if you are doing this as a first course). Top with the mushrooms. At the Atelier des Chefs we used those fancy metal moulds, so we could pack the mushrooms into a neat circle, then remove the mould. Then place an egg, cut in half, on top; and finally, nap the plate with more chives and the vinegar pan juices. You can also make a dramatic design using one of those new balsamic vinegar squeegee bottles. Have fun.

A la prochaine,
Andrea

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