Petit Riz

teachers who bake

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I’ve always had a soft spot for teachers who bring food to their class. It reveals something about them, a glimpse into their intimate life: the flavors they enjoy, whether they cook at all—like discovering a signature scent.

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le gâteau breton, a butter affair

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These past few months I’ve been busy in the Marley Spoon test kitchen, and along the way, even though I was still cooking in my own kitchen, I lost the habit of writing recipes at home. So attuned was my culinary mind to 30-minute dinner meals that I almost forgot one could cook something as audacious as a cake with more than half a pound of butter.

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galette pissaladière

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Until recently our summer in New York has been gentle and mild, while across the Atlantic, Europe wilts under a ferocious heat wave. I haven’t been as afraid to fire my oven, and it’s been a summer of baking, or more precisely, of galettes.

My love affair with galettes began late. I’ve always had a soft spot for quiches. The quiche Lorraine was one of the first recipes I mastered in high school: it came together so easily with supermarket all-butter crust, cream, eggs, and lardons (bacon pieces), and it always looked beautiful. It was easily transportable, could be eaten as a snack, and was even good at room temperature. When I arrived here eight years ago, I was dissatisfied with store-bought piecrust. I started making my own from scratch and was stunned by how quickly I could make the flakiest crust. After reading this wonderful article on how to make a galette without a recipe, I started experimenting with different fillings, and so I was lured into the camp of galette-makers. Here is why:

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jazz cake

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My last year of high school in France, a girl brought a quatre quart in which she had forgotten the flour. A quatre quart is a simple recipe of only four ingredients, and without the flour, hers was a crystalized lump of sugar, butter and eggs. We dug into the golden mound with plastic spoons, more out of curiosity than appetite.

I’m weary of improvising when it comes to baking, afraid I’ll disturb the delicate balance between ingredients that provide texture and lightness. I use a scale religiously and it has taken years to feel comfortable adapting famed recipes, to play with seasonal fruits, darkness of chocolate and sweeteners, and ratio of butter and sugar. If I improvise, it is often in the safest ways, with one hand still flicking through a cookbook.

One morning in March I woke up very early to bake a rhubarb cake for a potluck. I’ve always loved rhubarb. I don’t like it raw, but stewed on its own with honey or cooked in a cake or pie, the celery-like stalk softens into silky threads that provide just the right touch of tartness to counter sweetness. I love rhubarb’s sour bite, the strange, earthy smell it releases when cooked, how despite being ubiquitous today, it’s still mysterious and odd enough of a fruit (or sweet vegetable) to be quite prized and special. Baking rhubarb cake was a slow process as I needed to pulse almonds, beat butter and sugar until white and puffed with air, chop rhubarb, arrange long stalks over the surface, and cook the cake in a hot oven for over an hour. I alternated between my kitchen and lesson planning. As the cake cooled on my stovetop, I scrolled through my emails and realized the potluck was the following week. I had miscalculated. The cake stared back at me, menacingly, telling me to not leave it alone.

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summer squash terrine

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I have terrible memories from my childhood of fish terrines: cold and gritty mousse, a brown gelatin that wobbled around the edges. I doubt these terrines were bad, but they were always served as an appetizer during Christmas Eve, and only delayed the excitement of a tender chicken stuffed with roasted chestnuts and stewed prunes. I would smother my half-slice with a rich sauce until I was eating what tasted like pure mayonnaise. No wonder my stomach churned when I saw the white and orange terrine at the center of our table.

I’ve always loved a meat terrine where its irregular, rust-colored surface is almost like mountain terrain, and its moist interior is best sliced onto bread and eaten with cornichons. And slowly I’ve come to appreciate fish terrines, with much less sauce, and not when I’m hungering for a whole chicken.

But this month of May, the vegetable terrine has caught my attention. The one I’ve made a few times these past weeks is delicate and creamy. It is a cross between a terrine and a savory clafoutis, with a silky custard that barely binds the vegetables together.

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9 days in the Yucatán

text by Sanaë, photos and words of advice by Geoffroy 

Mex 8

La Chaya Maya 

Mex 20

Izamal, early morning

Mex 21

Merida, market

Mex ice

Heladeria El Colón, Merida

Cancún, arrival

We only catch glimpses of Cancún, from where we fly in and out.

We arrive at our first airbnb past midnight, in a leafy neighborhood, and we don’t see what the building looks like until the morning. The building is tall, a small castle with colorful walls and a kitchen where hallways and stairs converge, like arteries to a heart. The kitchen, crescent shaped, is home to a gigantic stove with many stovetop coffee makers. We have no food, so we walk down a curved road to a nearby cafe. The neighborhood is quiet and sunlit with palm trees and sand colored roads. We enter the spacious, air-conditioned cafe. Large barrels of coffee beans line the counter. Our coffees arrive, lightly spiced with cinnamon. I order toasts (an airy, pale imitation baguette called “pan francés”) smothered in beans and melted cheese, and a warm sandwich with ham and cheese.

Sak Nah guest house is a great value if you’re looking to stay in the pueblo of Cancun, away from the expensive beachfront hotels. The room is spacious and clean, and Benoit is a kind host. For breakfast, we enjoyed La Nevera, just around the corner.

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gyoza, raviolis

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I ate the best gyoza on the top floor of a shopping mall in Fukuoka this summer. My mother and I were traveling around the island of Kyushu and ended our trip with dinner in Fukuoka. She was taking the Shinkansen to Osaka and flying back to DC whereas I was continuing on alone to Tokyo to stay with an aunt I hadn’t seen in ten years. Japanese fancy shopping malls are famous for their food courts and selection of fairly expensive and well-regarded restaurants. We were tired from the many trains we rode to castaway villages where we discovered our ancestral lands, ate sashimi, and looked at pottery.

That evening we rode the elevator to the top and circled the floor, unable to choose from the colorful plastic displays of food. We settled on a ramen restaurant. My mother didn’t want ramen, so she ordered rice and gyoza. The gyoza arrived glistening and fat, the skin a rust brown, the inside squirting with hot pork juices. We swallowed them and ordered a second serving.

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revuelto de arroz

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Left: rice with egg, carrots, onions, and parsley. Right: rice with leeks, spring onions (one bunch), shiitake mushrooms, and ginger. 

This rice isn’t fried, my mother says, it’s a revuelto de arroz. A scramble of rice, or better still, rice turned over in the pan. With a wooden spatula, she lifts and turns the short-grain rice in the pan. Clumps of warm rice roll around in caramelized leeks and carrots. In a bowl, she whisks two eggs with salt and swirls them in a pan shimmering with olive oil. She scrambles the eggs with chopsticks. The rice crisps against a medium flame. The pan hisses as my mother sprinkles soy sauce. She adds a final trickle of olive oil and gently folds in the scrambled eggs. Sometimes she makes her revuelto with coconut oil.

We used to call this dish arroz saltado, or fried rice, until we realized it’s nothing like the fried rice we find in restaurants. These rice grains aren’t glossy and slippery with oil. They hold together from the moisture of cooking in water, forming clusters among whatever vegetables we’ve found in our kitchen. The only seasoning we use is salt, soy sauce, and oil, either olive or coconut, depending on our mood. But we are adamant about using fragrant oil rather than the more neutral grapeseed. The final touch: fresh parsley leaves.

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cabin cooking

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Photo by Daniel Abrams

There were eight of us for three bedrooms in a wooden cabin so intimate we could hear one another whisper before falling asleep.

We drove two and a half hours west, from New York to the Poconos. When we arrived at the residence the sky was cloaked black. At the entrance near the visitor’s center a traffic board flashed red with the announcement: Saturday night karaoke cancelled due to technical difficulties. The community seemed gigantic and ghostly with rows of houses along empty roads, each house equidistant from the other and separated by strips of garden. I was reminded of an abandoned ski resort. We were surrounded by hundreds of unlit houses, but we still felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere.

We arrived at our cabin after driving a long loop along the lake, around which were organized the two hundred and sixty lots. We joked that we were returning home for Thanksgiving, and indeed I experienced an eerie déjà vu of a homecoming I never had in college.

The windows glowed orange as we climbed the steps of our cabin and pushed open the door. Jo danced around the kitchen, deep in her dinner preparations, while Ben placed logs of damp wood near a heating vent. The house smelled of roasting chicken, lemons, capers, and caramelized sweet potatoes. Dan whisked a vinaigrette for the red leaf spinach while Jo cooked Israeli couscous. She sautéed onions in olive oil and added the white pearls to toast until they were golden. She poured stock onto the couscous and I stirred while she prodded the chicken and spooned capers onto its crispy skin.

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lemon

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Our school in Melbourne organized camping trips every year. We would drive away from the city with two or three parents accompanying our teacher. We stayed for a week or so in a rudimentary camping ground with a communal kitchen. One summer we found ourselves lost, off-trail, in the middle of the Australian bush. The mother of a classmate gave us lemons to suck on, telling us they helped with mountain sickness. I can’t imagine the mountains close to Melbourne being all that treacherous, but our water bottles were only half filled and many of us wore cotton shorts, barely equipped for climbing over large and dusty rock formations. Our thighs were soon scratched by roots and twigs, our clothes streaked with soil, and what had seemed like a joyful adventure began to frighten us. We could tell the adults were worried. They had no phones and our teacher had started to yell “mountain calls” in the hope of attracting another group of hikers. The lemons eased our nervousness. I remember watching the beautiful mother – she was younger than the other parents, she had long black hair and dark red lips – as she held the lemons firmly against a flat stone and cut with her swiss knife.

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