Monday, 20 September 2010

Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard (Γευματίζοντας στο Παρίσι)

Do you, perchance, need any ramekins, or a double boiler, or even a Dutch oven?*  is offering a $35 gift voucher* in this post that you can use to buy one! 

Since I moved to Greece, I lost many of my earliest material memories that I grew up with in New Zealand. Above all, I lamented the loss of my book collection. At first it pained me to recall all those books sitting on the shelves of my bookcase, which I had painted myself in bright colours. They had been bought mainly at second-hand bookshops. I couldn't keep them all, so I decided to give them away. Most ended up being returned to the bookshops that I had brought them from. In essence, I never really got over this loss, until the arrival of the internet, which meant that I could find cheap copies of the same books, as well as add to my collection with well-priced new ones.

What I was mainly left with from New Zealand was my mother's crockery and kitchenware collections. After my mother's death, my grieving father packed up and left NZ, carting everything from his old home to his new one in Greece via container-ship; even the rubbish bin came with him, as he wasn't in a good state of mind to sort things out. He moved out of a 3-bedroom double-lounge kitchen-dining room suburban bungalow into an inner-city apartment with just three (very small) rooms; of course, not everything could be accommodated! I ended up with enough plates and glasses and knives and forks to last me a lifetime. I never really needed to buy anything new for my own kitchen; my mother's kitchenware took up all the available space in my cupboards. This made me look good when I got married; even though my mother had passed away, my acquaintances could see that she had taken care of my προίκα adequately.

new year's lunch crockery
Mother's china, passed on to me; this is some of the stuff that I do actually like and use, perhaps 2-3 times a year.

Some people like to treat such items passed on from one generation to another as family heirlooms; I just called them 'stuff'. My mother suffered from stuffomania. She'd buy crockery and kitchen gadgets on sale, stuff she never used. Some of it was on show in glass cabinets, but most of it was stored away, never to be used or seen, until she died and my dad had to deal with it when he decided to sell the house. Western households have larger storage spaces and 'stuff' accumulation doesn't just become a habit, it becomes a way of life. Kitchen cabinets and wall units are often stocked with items that will be used only once a year (like a Christmas plate), while some are never used at all (like a set of fish knives). With the advances in nanotechnology, kitchen gadgets that once took up a lot of space in a kitchen while only being handy for a very small range of kitchen tasks (the food processor is a classic example) have now been replaced by smaller all-purpose gadgets.

kitchen stuff
If you don't drink coffee all day, and the last time you used a steamer was when you were trying to fit into your wedding dress, and your culinary heritage does not include fondue, and you own a multi-purpose blender/chopper/hand-held mixer, then you probably won't be needing any of these items...

After 11 years of marriage, I decided that if I had used some of this stuff less than one time during that period, then it would probably end up never being used. This past summer has been the most cathartic period in my life. Always with my mother's stuffomania fetish in mind, I got rid of a lot of unused items (including wedding presents) that had been hiding in the darkest parts of my wardrobes, cupboards and drawers. Finally I could find things more easily in my de-cluttered storage spaces. Now my tidy kitchen cupboards have enough room to accommodate a set of items that my mother never owned: ramekins.

My new ramekins
Ramekins don't figure in Cretan cuisine, unless you want to make glorified versions of basic Cretan dishes like boureki or hortopites - nice ideas, of course, which I could use in the future when Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson come to dine with me on my sunny balcony with a view over my town, but right now, I need them to make a delicious-sounding dessert that Elizabeth Bard, an American living in Paris, describes in her book Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes. Elizabeth's story begins with a hot date at Le Chartier Restaurant - and where did I dine with my family when we visited Paris?!

chartier restaurant paris
Le Bouillon Chartier, Paris

It's rare for a cookbook to interest me much these days, because in my humble opinion, most new cookbooks are more the coffee-table type, with enticing food porn and recipes that require difficult-to-source ingredients (for Crete), special cooking equipment or special skills. Elizabeth Bard's book contains no photos, while the recipes simply sound enticing and guaranteed to make an impression. Even though Elizabeth lived in Paris when she wrote this book and her kitchen and refrigerator were both tiny, she seemed to cook a lot like me: she sought out seasonal ingredients whenever possible, her cooking techniques were simple and she used the freezer to her advantage. She now lives in Provence, so I can imagine her growing, cooking and preserving a lot of food too!

Elizabeth also discusses the love of stuff accumulation that her compatriots have, which did not suit the lifestyle of the Parisian that she eventually became. She touches on other ex-pat dilemmas, similar to what any person making the move from the New World to the Old World goes through, which again endeared me to her novel even more: meeting pompous ex-pats who try to maintain their old life in a new country, constantly comparing lifestyles 'here' and 'there', always complaining about how life is 'not the same' with the mis-notion in their brain of gauging everything that happens in one's life by how 'successful' it makes them. Her compatriots were all living the American Dream back in the home country, and wondering why she didn't care if she was leaving it behind. If you have ever left a materialistically-inclined status-conscious capitalistic country for a more relaxed one where the quality of life plays a greater role in society, then you will understand what Elizabeth is trying to say in her book.

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The seductive recipe I fell in love with from Lunch in Paris was a molten chocolate dessert made in individual servings. Elizabeth is very effective in her multiple uses for various kitchenware, but I felt that I couldn't make these delightful desserts without investing in a set of ramekins.

Pots de chocolat: Elizabeth says "this recipe makes you look a teensy bit like a culinary genius in front of guests." Ideally, they are cooked just until the outer part forms a cakey crust, so that the centre is molten and syrupy. I cooked half the batch in this way, and the other half until they formed a firm cake; both taste great, especially with ice-cream or fresh berry fruit to accompany them. This dessert is not only easy to make, but you can also freeze it to cook when needed. Having tried this, I can tell you it cooks better this way.

But I didn't buy ramekins just to make one recipe, did I? I used them to individualise Elizabeth's charlotte recipe, too, using some well-known high quality Greek export products (the recipe will be posted soon in another post).

I made the charlotte according to the recipe Elizabeth gave in her book, and then modified it to make it just a tad more glamorous, by making it in individual portions with the help of the ramekins. 

I am looking forward to individualising Elizabeth's profiterole recipe too. And what about my kids' favorite - creme caramel, here I come!

The recipes for these delicious desserts can be found in Lunch in Paris. And if you don't own any ramekins (or a double boiler, or even a Dutch oven!),* has given me the chance to give away a $35 gift voucher* through my blog, with which you can order from their site. Just leave a comment on this post, and I will draw the lucky winner in ten days' time!

*Please note that only ships to the US, Canada, the UK and Germany. International shipping charges will apply.

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