Welcome to The Aix-Files

Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Black Diamond Part 1

Truffles at the Rognes Truffle Festival

Truffle breath is something to behold. I experienced it at the first truffle market we attended back in December in Rognes. A woman was passing by me and called out to a friend while eating a truffled butter sandwich. Wow! Even at this outdoor festival, the smell of truffles hung heavily in the air. There were hundreds of stalls, most of them selling truffles and truffle products, such as oils, vinegars, truffle cutters, truffle brushes, you name it. We now own all of the above. Other stalls sold produce such as lovely hams, cheeses, jams, biscuits, wine and vacuum-packed chestnuts (excellent – see recipe from the last blog). There was also a truffle-hunting demonstration with pigs and dogs. Which begs the question, is that “je ne sais quoi” aroma that characterizes the truffle just the smell of dog lips?

The prized black truffle, tuber melanosporum, grows in this region of the Vaucluse from around mid-December to March. If you happen to be in this part of the world in the winter, it’s a good idea to develop a taste for the truffle, as it’s the main attraction at this time of year – a huge attraction, in fact.

The truffle market in Carpentras is renowned. It’s mainly an event for big buyers who gather in the square of the Hotel Dieu around a series of big, long tables. Sellers in heavy parkas and caps shift around nervously, displaying their sacks of “black diamonds” while buyers stroll past, fingering a few and smelling a lot of them.

One hopes that no one had a cold that day, after all that fondling and sniffing.
Truffles sellers at the Carpentras truffle market
Truffle buyer at the Carpentras truffle market

The markets also sell starter plants of oak, impregnated with the spores of truffles. But after planting them– in the correct environment and the right conditions – one must wait around ten years to harvest the first truffles. For those who are impatient, or dishonest, there is the business of stealing truffles. Thieves sneak into oak forests under the cover of darkness with their dogs.

And it’s big business. This season truffles went for around 900 euros per kilo. Sometimes more, and sometimes less. So it’s clear why someone would want to steal even a few to sell at the market. But be warned, a truffle thief was shot dead by the owner in a field just north of here a couple of weeks ago. For regular honest people such as ourselves what this means is, to support this habit, we are going to have to send Jim into the marketplace with his accordion.

Philippe Appels with Mandoline, the truffle dog
A beautiful specimen, freshly dug up

La Maison du Moulin
Last weekend we participated in a truffle hunting demonstration – a real one, not staged – near Grignan, north of us in the Drôme region. Grignan is near the town of Richerenches, which is home to the other great truffle market. Philippe Appels owns this large plantation of oaks. When I asked if he was worried about thieves, he said “There are ONLY thieves around here.” “Why not install an electric wire?” I asked, as I’ve seen elsewhere. “It wouldn’t make any difference.” He seemed resigned to the reality of the situation.

We were out with his dog, Mandoline (the word for the truffle shaver, as well as the musical instrument). Mandoline was trained to be a truffle hunter from day one. He knows how to stiff them out. He identifies the right spot and starts to dig, then leaves it to Philippe to probe with his claw-like instrument. Somehow Philippe is able to discern the truffle, however small, from the pebbles and little rocks. And he is so enthusiastic. He admits, even after years of truffle hunting, he still gets excited at the moment of digging up that big, black lumpy melanosporum. He loves even pulling up a handful of dirt and smelling it, confirming a truffle is near. He begs us to sniff the handful of mud, too. As he scrapes the dirt off of the beautiful example we found, he can’t wipe the smile off his face.

This truffle hunt took place the morning after one of our most memorable truffle cooking experiences. Bénédicte Appels runs the kitchen at La Maison du Moulin, an old stone farmhouse outside of Grignan. Not that we ever saw the actual mill, so preoccupied we were with truffles.

We checked into our lovely room in the afternoon and later gathered in the kitchen for an evening of cooking. We were joined by three other French truffle enthusiasts. Bénédicte wrote the menu on her blackboard (ardoise) and we started in, brushing, rinsing and slicing truffles into thin slices (lamelles), sticks and small dice. We blended some into mascarpone, we mashed more into butter (this is better made two days or more in advance). We also added some to a big bowl of eggs which would later be turned into a brouillade.

Traditional performers at the Truffle Festival in Rognes
The Confrérie in Rognes

Truffle Police, ensuring only tuber melanosporum are being sold
But before I get ahead of myself, I should backtrack and describe more about a typical truffle festival. We visited three, in fact: most recently in Caprentras, before that in Pernes les Fontaines and the first, December 19th, in Rognes, mentioned above. At Rognes, we arrived early, as advised, around 9 am, just in time for the first omelette aux truffes, served with a fork stuck in a piece of baguette and a glass of red wine. We were able to survey the hundreds of stalls before the hoards arrived.

The formal ceremonies even included a concert by a gaboulet/tambourin group (fife and drum), performed by people wearing bonnets and costumes (sorry Jim, the price you pay for attending a truffle festival). After a speech by the mayor, the Confrérie de la Diamant Noir (the formal organization of truffle people), dressed in requisite black robes, hats and long golden ribbons with dangling medallions, processed solemnly through the whole market, chatting with people along the way, ending up at the top of the road for apéritifs. We joined them for lovely croûtes with smoked salmon, puff pastry with anchovies and more. That was followed by a ‘gastronomic meal’ in a community hall, each course featuring truffles in some way.

We (mostly Jim) have been experimenting with truffles for several weeks now, some dishes more successful than others. We’ve learned a lot along the way. The most important rule is to never cook a truffle (melanosporum variety). Otherwise the flavour will disappear instantly. You can warm it a bit, but never cook it. Best of all is to infuse it for two or more days with one of the ingredients to go in your dish, whether it’s cream, butter or mascarpone - yes, all highly caloric ingredients!

What this means is, while Jim is busking in the market, you will find me running up and down a few more mountains in our neighbourhood.

Eggs being infused with truffle

One of the best recipes of all, and the most popular, is also one of the simplest, if you follow the instructions. Jim has now perfected it. For this dish you must begin at least two days in advance. Take a fresh truffle (or more, depending on number of servings) and two fresh eggs per person (okay, Jim insists on three), put them in a jar, and hermetically seal it. Put it in the fridge until cooking day. The truffle aroma will infuse the eggs right through the shell. A few hours before cooking, crack the eggs into a bowl and mix with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Brush the truffle carefully with a stiff brush like a toothbrush. You may need to use a tiny paring knife to chip out the bits of dirt in the cracks and crevices (truffles are not always perfectly round). Then continue brushing and wiping the truffle under cold running water until you are sure you have removed all of the grit. This is the trickiest part of the job. And you have to do it right before using the truffle, as the water, after time, will make it lose some of its flavour and begin to go soft. Dry the truffle with a cloth, then slice it into rounds, setting aside a few for the final garnish (wrap them so they do not dry out), then chop the rest quite finely. Add them to the cracked eggs and cover tightly with plastic wrap until cooking time.

A brouillade is like scrambled eggs but it is never cooked directly on heat, rather in a bain-marie, or in other words, in a metal bowl set over very gently simmering water. The mixture should never get firm, like scrambled eggs, but should be soft and creamy, almost like porridge. The French call it baveuse, or runny.

Choose your pans (unless you own a bain-marie): one bigger one to go on the stove with a few inches of water in it, then a metal bowl to fit inside. We generally keep the bowl above the simmering water, but Bénédicte kept her pan directly in the water. Bring your water to a simmer and set your metal bowl on top. Add a knob of butter and melt it, tilting the pan. Then pour in the egg mixture, scraping out every last morsel of truffle with a spatula. Immediately start stirring with a wooden spoon or a whisk. Invite your guests to the table, because the brouillade needs to be served immediately. Entertain them with scintillating stories while you continue stirring, scraping the sides so that it does not stick too much. At first nothing will happen, then you will notice it starting to thicken. Continue cooking and stirring until it is creamy and thick, but still somewhat runny. Don’t worry, it is cooked. Stir in a spoonful of crème fraîche (purists wouldn't, but I like that slight tang). Pour into warmed serving bowls, garnish with extra slices of truffle and serve without delay. Offer fresh pepper and fleur de sel (from the Camargue if possible). Eat it with a spoon.

Scallops and truffles
This is one of the recipes we prepared at Grignan with Bénédicte Appels. It’s easy to make, as long as you have truffles, and the presentation is sensational. (I will admit, we tried the recipe again when we didn’t have a truffle and simply drizzled truffle oil on at the table and it was also very good.)

You’ll need one scallop shell, including the lid, per person (or consider small gratin dishes). In terms of amounts, we found that two scallops, including the coral, works for one shell.

First steam some juliennes (thin strips) of leeks, and drain. Put the bottoms of the scallop shells on a baking sheet, propping them up with crumpled bits of aluminum foil (so they don’t tip). Fill the bottom of each scallop shell with leeks. Slice the scallops into thin rounds. Overlap them in a pretty circle on top of the leeks. Slice a truffle thinly. Slip the slices (lamelles) of truffle in between the scallop slices. Place a teaspoon of truffle butter in the middle (truffle butter is just butter mashed with diced truffle). Season with salt and pepper. Place the top scallop shell on top. Cut slices of puff pastry into strips (commercial puff pastry is fine, because you don’t actually eat it). Wrap the puff pastry strip around the crack to hermetically seal the scallop. Brush it with a bit of egg yolk. Bake it in a hot oven (200 degrees celsius, 400 degrees fahrenheit) for 12 minutes and serve without delay. Your guests crack open the pastry and dive in with spoons and forks. Bon appétit!

Scallops in the shell with truffles
À la prochaine,


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Village Life

The main square, La Roque sur Pernes, mist in the valley
Driving down the street to the house

Horses in the valley, view from the house

Jacques, Monique and Jim on our hike
La Roque sur Pernes

Mass at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul,
Festival of St. Antoine
Our terrace overlooking the valley
 A car drove by our front door. We both jumped up to look. Because it doesn’t happen that often. Yes, we have left behind the fast-paced city life of Aix-en-Provence for the tranquillity of a hill-top village in the Vaucluse, La Roque sur Pernes, in the house of our Winnipeg friends Sandi and Ron. We are only an hour north of Aix, but life couldn’t be more different here. Aix is so animated, mainly due to the active student life. At any time of day or night the streets are teeming with people, the cafés are full and lively. Here in the smaller communities of the Vaucluse, we’re finding many (in some cases most!) restaurants and businesses completely shut up for the winter, or at least for a month or so.  In our village there is no café, no boulangerie, no bar.  There is a school, an 11th C chateau, which has been converted into a hotel, and there is a library, which is open six hours a week.  I have taken advantage and applied for a library card.  I have now signed out my first book, an old Provençal cookbook, with all of the recipes offered in both French and Provençal. However, living in a small village has its benefits. It is friendly enough that you can stick your head out of your window and say hello to your neighbour, as Edith did upon our arrival. “Do you know where to find the key?” she asked, which made us wonder if everyone knows where the key is. I noticed a car idling outside the door just as we pulled all of our bags in. It was Geneviève, from just down the road. “Are you the Canadian looking for a French teacher? I know someone. I’ll come back with her phone number.” Our neighbours, Monique and Jacques, invited us to dinner on the day of arrival and we have become fast friends. Every few days they knock at the door to go for a hike in the countryside. We have a doorbell, but people prefer to knock. On our first hike we weren’t very far along when Monique, having discovered my love of herbs, bent over and plucked a beautiful sprig of wild thyme for our kitchen. Since then we have enjoyed numerous hikes in the countryside with them. A couple of weekends ago it was the Festival of St. Antoine, the patron saint of this town. In the past this festival marked the day when they killed the pig, then roasted it. M. Pantagène, whose grandfather was mayor of the town many years ago, has been reinvigorating the festival in recent years. His enthusiasm for the history of the region is indefatigable. If only he would tell us his stories in French, rather than in Provençal. The festival started with a mass in the old church, up a steep set of stairs in the centre of the village. The church was absolutely packed, with the very good choir from Pernes-les-Fontaines taking up the front pews. After the mass, which included a baptism, the choir re-formed to give us all a mini concert. All of the music was composed by their director. We all then descended a few steps to the reception room of the mayor's office (mairie) for an apéritif. As I mentioned in the last blog, the tradition is to hang around and chat until everyone finally arrives. M. Pantagène said a few words of thanks, followed by the mayor, then we dug into plates of hors d’oeuvres and drinks. This was followed by lunch in the community hall. We had decided to bow out of this event, as it seemed everyone else knew they were to bring a dish, which we hadn’t prepared. But M. Pantagène’s niece talked us into it. So we trotted down to our house to collect plates, cutlery and glasses (we had to bring our own) plus a couple of bottles of Vincent’s wine, Domaine de la Crillonne, and joined in the festivities. It was a slice of life we could never experience anywhere else. M. Pantagène encouraged us to try the salad picked from his own garden, dressed with anchovies. We sampled various home-made quiches for the entrée. Then we were served roasted pork (probably not slaughtered that day) but served with the traditional tian of white beans. Our companions at our table regaled us with stories and traditions about the region and then we circulated and chatted with almost everyone there. But I have to sign off now. I hear voices outside the window. I have to go see who it is. QUAINT THINGS ABOUT VILLAGE LIFE
Welcome to La Roque sur Pernes
-The burly firemen (pompiers) who bang on the door at the start of the New Year, decked out in full gear, selling calendars (in which they are pictured fully clothed). -The enthusiasm for Super Loto (bingo), especially at holiday time. -The gendarme who saluted us as we approached him to ask for directions. -People who enter a restaurant or store and greet everyone “Bonjour Messieurs Dames” and then do the same when they leave. -Our French teacher, Brigitte, who makes house calls. - Vincent, our winemaker friend, who would prefer we come by his winery down that winding road rather than visit a caviste in town. -People who poke their heads out of the window to chat. -Waking up to the cockadoodledoo of the roosters (except sometimes they wait till the crack of noon... country time). -Hearing the donkey bray down in the valley while we are eating lunch on the terrace. -Listening to the clip-clop of horses sauntering down the street in front of our house. -Admiring the amazing stars at night. RECIPE OF THE WEEK: BRAISED PORK WITH CÈPES AND CHESTNUTS This earthy and wintry recipe combines elements of two great dishes we were offered, one by Monique here in La Roque sur Pernes the night we arrived, the other by our friend Louise in Paris. If you have time to make this a day ahead and reheat it on serving day, all the better. The recipe also includes juniper berries, which we find here in the woods. For four people, start with 650 grams or so of pork shoulder, cut into fairly large chunks, around 4 cm square. Brown them in a large pan over medium-high heat in some olive oil, turning them only when they release easily from the pan. Do this in batches, if necessary. Remove them to a plate. Season with salt and pepper. Pour out any excess fat from the pan, leaving enough to sauté the onion. Meanwhile, soak 30-50 grams dried cèpes (or porcini mushrooms, in Italian) in a cup of water to soften. Crush 25 juniper berries on a chopping board with the side of a knife (or in a mortar and pestle). Thinly slice one onion and add it to the pan. Add two bay leaves and a handful of chopped fresh sage, if you have it. Cook over medium heat, stirring until softened. Add a dash of red-wine vinegar to the pan, then one cup of white wine. Bring to a simmer. Return the meat to the pan, preferably in one layer. Add the juniper berries and one tablespoon of herbes de provence, stirring to coat. Cover and keep the mixture at a gentle simmer. Lift the cèpes out of the water, rinse, and then chop them a bit. Add them to the pan. Strain the soaking liquid through a thin tissue (thickness of a Kleenex or double cheesecloth), leaving behind any grit. Add the liquid to the pan. Cover and continue simmering until the meat is very tender, around 1+1/2 to 2 hours. During the last fifteen minutes, add about 250 grams of chestnuts, either from frozen state or a jar (not sweetened). Remove the lid and simmer until warmed through. 
VIllage scene
 Remove the meat to a serving platter. If the juices are still watery, raise the heat and reduce them to the consistency of a sauce. Pour over the meat. Garnish with fresh parsley.
Louise served her version with creamy polenta and Monique served hers with purée of celery root (celeri rave). Both were delicious.
A la prochâine,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

French Formalities

"Cocktail" at the Town Hall, Aix
  “Should I kiss the mayor?” This was one of the many questions I asked myself as I prepared for the “cocktail” at the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), an event organized to welcome newcomers to Aix. As I had many tiny buttons to do up on my new French blouse, I had some time to ponder such things.

I’m still trying to figure out the tradition of kissing on both cheeks. How well should you know someone before you “faire la bise”? Which cheek do you start with? Twice or three times? Should you hold the person firmly by the shoulders, like our friends Monique and Jacques? Or lean forward, chicken-style and air-kiss with barely any skin contact? It is also very common for men to kiss if they are close friends. What really surprises me is when people “faire la bise” when they meet me for the first time.

There’s also the question of when to “tutoyer” someone. In other words, speaking to someone with the familiar “tu” form as opposed to the formal “vous” form. In any business situation, one always uses “vous”. And in the four months that we lived in Aix, we always spoke to our landlady using “vous”, even though by the end we were quite friendly.

I have been to a number of shops and businesses first thing in the morning and have watched everyone arrive, one after the other, and shake hands (men) or kiss each of their colleagues one by one before they start working. In Corsica, at breakfast at our hotel, I noticed three couples travelling together meeting for the first time that day. They went around the table and each greeted the other personally, shaking and kissing. And when I go for a hike with a group of ten or more, saying goodbye can take an awfully long time. But what do you do when you are in the company of friends mixed with new acquaintances? For example, we went to dinner at our friends’ house, Adeline and Cedric. Adeline’s parents and sister were there, too. It took some effort to remember use “tu” with our friends, but “vous” with her parents. And then at the end of the evening we hung around at the door for a very long time, because I didn’t know who to kiss.
Picnic lunch in the Verdon, bises to follow

There are also many formalities around “apéritifs”. When we arrived at the exquisite room in the Town Hall for the “cocktail”, there was an amazing array of drinks and hors d’oeuvres spread out on a long table, waiters at the ready. But everyone just stood around and chatted, no one daring to steal a bite. It turns out this is how it works. You wait until everyone has arrived, then someone offers a speech if it is a formal occasion, or someone will simply announce it is time to begin. Then everyone descends on the food platters with gusto. This also means that it is good form to arrive on time. We have been to a couple of events with larger groups, where things get very late when we have to wait for the last straggler to arrive before even ordering an apéritif.

As for the actual drinks, one is almost never offered a plain glass of wine as an apéritif, unless it is a sweet Muscat. Popular offerings include kir (a few drops of crème de cassis mixed with white wine); pastis, the licorice-flavoured drink that is mixed with water; whiskey (JB); Martini red or white (vermouth without the gin). There might also be a local specialty, such as vin de noix, or wine made from walnuts. At the truffle festival in Pernes les Fontaines they – strangely – mixed wine with cherry juice.

Apéritifs are always served with nibblies, even if it’s just olives or chips. Apéritifs at the “cocktail” were very elaborate: foie gras or smoked salmon on croutons and little puff pastries filled with or topped with things like tapenade or sausage. At the reception announcing the music line-up of the Lyric Festival of Aix the elegant appetizers even included miniature glasses (verrines) filled with couscous. At the apéritif with the mayor in our new village, La Roque sur Pernes, as part of the St. Antoine festival, they offered platters of tiny pizza squares and pissaladière.

Well, in the end, the mayor didn’t show up to the cocktail in Aix at all, so I was spared the dilemma of formalities. A representative arrived instead to give a speech. But a few weeks later Jim and I each received a personalized letter from the mayor apologizing for not being there in person and offering an explanation. Now that’s what I call formal.

Pissaladière is offered by the slice in most bakeries here, usually baked on a bread-like dough. It’s basically an onion pizza, and even though it is topped with anchovies and olives I personally find it tempting even for breakfast (but that’s just me). The toppings vary from a very tomato-ey mixture to a thick grey mass of onions, always with anchovy and a scattering of olives. I prefer a version with just a hint of tomato.

Feel free to make your own crust, but I have always had great success with pizza dough, such as from DeLuca’s in Winnipeg, or even a prepared puff pastry (pâte feuilleté). We served pissaladières at the two big going-away parties we threw before coming to France, so we feel very nostalgic about this recipe.
Thinly slice about 600 g. of onions. Add them to a large pan with some olive oil, a teaspoon of herbes de provence and a bay leaf and cook until they are meltingly tender, around 20 - 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cut a large tomato in half crosswise and grate it over a bowl to catch the juices, discarding the peel when that’s all that’s left. Add the tomato to the onion mixture during the last five minutes of cooking. Cook, stirring, until the juices are reduced. The mixture should be moist but not be watery. Remove the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper.
Roll out your pizza dough (or puff pastry) into a rectangle and place on a large baking sheet.. Spread the onion mixture evenly on top, taking it right to the edges. Decorate it with 12 or more anchovy fillets and 12 black olives (niçoise or kalamata). Bake in a 400 degree oven until the crust is crisp and lightly golden, around 15 minutes, monitoring it carefully. Cut into squares and serve as an apéritif, either warm or at room temperature, with the drink of your choice. Bon appétit!

Frosty windows at the Town Hall, Aix
 À la prochaine,


Monday, February 7, 2011

The Many Moods of Monet


Line-up for the Monet Exhibit
Six-hour wait for the Monet Exhibit

Jordi Savall (Louise and Steve looking on)
The best thing about the Monet exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris, aside from the fact that a good friend got us in ahead of the six-hour line-up, is having the opportunity to see several paintings of the same scene or subject side by side. The exhibit brings together over 200 paintings from 70 international collections. Monet liked to paint a scene over and over, at different times of the day and different times of the year, in some cases many years apart. To see how he is able to capture the light of early morning, and then transform it to the bright sun of midday, then the sombre colours of evening, or the greys of a cloudy day is extraordinary. We saw examples like this of the cliffs of Normandy, the cathedral at Rouen, the haystacks in Holland, lanky poplars, women with parasols in the field, and of course, the iconic water lilies and gardens at Giverny. It was a truly memorable experience. The exhibition came down on January 24, and leading up to the final day, the gallery was open 24 hours a day.

Monet painted the Seine over and over, too. And one can recreate the experience of appreciating its many aspects by simply strolling along it. It is always the same, yet always different: from the first breathtaking glimpse of it from the Left Bank, to the view from the majestic bridge at the Grand Palais with the Eiffel Tower in the distance; to the wide open vista near the Jardin des Plantes; to the view from Pont Neuf (New Bridge, which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris), Bateaux Mouches floating underneath; to the view from the pedestrian Pont des arts, decorated inexplicably with hundreds of locks, Notre Dame cathedral behind, as the sun sets.

Likewise the ubiquitous cafés that are found on every street corner in Paris may all look alike, but each offers its own particular charm. You can squeeze into a green and red wicker chair at the famous Café de Flore on bd St-Germain or slide into a creamy wicker chair with green trim next door at Les Deux Magots, a café also steeped in history. It’s been around since 1813 and was a popular haunt for the literary and intellectual élite, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, the young Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso. But a tiny espresso sipped among the other tourists there will set you back four euros. More fun is to join the crowd at cozy La Palette tucked in on rue de Seine, where the whole neighbourhood stops by for an after-work apéritif, everyone shaking hands and kissing everyone else, including the waiters, as they arrive.
Othewise, Louise is partial to the Caféothèque in the Marais.

-Learned to love Mondrian (well, sort of) with the help of Steve and Louise at the Pompidou Centre.
-Walked for hours and hours and hours with Neil and Sarah.
-Danced at the Guinguette de la Mouff’ at the foot of the Moufftard Market, one of the liveliest in Paris.
-Had a succulent dinner at Le Baratin in the 20th and a simple, but really delicious lunch at Le Petit Vatel in the 6th.
-Took advantage of the January sales.
-Heard Jordi Savall leading the Orchestre des Nations performing music by Rameau at the Salle Pleyel.
-Cooked some great meals with Louise and Steve at their apartment.
-Tried to decide between the lemon tarte at Mulot, the apple tarte at Poilane or the mandarin tarte at Philippe Conticini's Pâtisserie des rèves for dessert.

Monet relished a good meal and even kept a series of cooking journals. These have been turned into a beautitul book called “Monet’s Table”, by Claire Joyes. It’s full of gorgeous photos of his kitchen as well as his garden at Giverny, which supplied some of the fresh produce for his dishes. He ate his main meal precisely at 11:30 am so that he could take advantage of the afternoon light. His meals generally included soup.

Slice six leeks horizontally, rinse well under running water, then slice crosswise into half-inch pieces, using only the white and tender green parts. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a soup pot and sweat the leeks for a few minutes until they are tender but not browned. Meanwhile, peel and chop four large potatoes. Add them to the pot along with five cups of water, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme, one teaspoon salt and and freshly ground pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, around 25 minutes. Fish out the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Monet wouldn’t have had an immersion blender, but feel free to blend it smooth if you wish, or enjoy it as is, chunky-style. His recipe calls for adding lots more butter at the end, but a couple of tablespoons of crème fraîche or cream stirred in would be my preference. Garnish with chopped parsley. Enjoy!

À la prochaine,