Petit Riz

une complète, s’il vous plaît!

I’m delighted and honored to feature Sara Zin‘s beautiful artwork in this post.  
For more paintings, visit her illustrated cookblog: starving artist (and perhaps cook a recipe or two!)

galette drawing

1987, La Vallée, Bretagne. Not many have seen a Japanese woman when my mother arrives to this quiet country road lined with cornfields where my great aunt Germaine kills her geese once a year. My mother speaks French and has cooked her way through Argentina. She knows buckwheat from cold soba noodles that she ate with finely sliced spring onions and shredded seaweed, dipped in sauce. In Japan, she says, pillows are filled with buckwheat hulls the size of pearls to cool one’s head throughout hot, humid summers.

Her first galette with my father is in Saint-Malo – a port on the northern coast of Brittany – at a small restaurant owned by an old woman. My mother doesn’t like the heavy fillings of cheese and egg so she asks for mushrooms in hers and is horrified when she discovers canned mushrooms hidden beneath the buckwheat folds. This must be an afternoon snack, she tells herself. Later we will sit down for a “real” meal. But there is no “dinner” like in Argentina with many courses, and so that night she nurses her cold feet in the bidet of her future in-law’s bathroom, for April is often a cold month in Brittany.

She falls in love with the land and urges my father to renovate a tiny square house once used to store potatoes. The stone walls are as thick as our forearms. My mother and I live in this house during the summers. She names it la casita or la petite maison in French. The ceilings slant so low that we crouch in the bathtub to shower. Down the road we watch Germaine cook galettes in a small, dark kitchen where she keeps her birds in a cage, hanging above her head. There, she chats with the birds as a gas crêpière smokes. She flips soft, spongy galettes onto a large plate. Hers are famous for the handful of grey salt she throws into the batter.

But do you like galettes? I ask my mother, as she tells me these stories.

Oh, of course, I love galettes, but not with canned mushrooms.

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thanking the salmon

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This was our version of a Thanksgiving meal. My mother doesn’t like the tough meat of turkey, she prefers sockeye salmon, and so we thought of the holiday as more of an occasion to spend an afternoon cooking together. What a gift to have a full day in the middle of the week to indulge in the kitchen.

The result was the kind of meal you might cook to impress four ravenous guests. The dessert takes two to three days to prepare, but it can be made ahead of time and left to rest in the fridge overnight. The salmon can be thrown into a hot oven when the guests arrive as it only takes twenty minutes to cook. The tart can be cooked an hour or two in advance; it is delicious served at room temperature, although it can also be easily reheated. The root vegetables, too, can be roasted two to three hours before serving and returned to the oven with the salmon. They’ll finish caramelizing as the salmon bakes.

We began our afternoon in the kitchen by roasting kabocha, potatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes in a piping hot oven for an hour, until they were soft in the center and caramelized. We had sprinkled them with sel gris, olive oil and fresh rosemary. The revelation was kabocha – cooked in the oven, it has a delicate, sweet flavor that intensifies along its crisped edges. Its inner flesh was velvet along our tongues.

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galettes in brittany

I’m honored to have a short piece on galettes and cider published in Public Streets this week!

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Photos by Geoffroy Bablon (top) and Patrick Lemoine

 

gra-no-la: keep the nuts whole

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I sat down to write in order to stop eating the granola I made last night. Granola is addictive, but this one beckons me unless I hide it from sight.

At the end of July I started searching for the recipe. I tried buckwheat, cocoa powder, cacao nibs, olive oil, coconut oil, coconut flakes, chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, honey, coconut sugar, brown sugar, and maple syrup. I heated and reheated my kitchen mercilessly through a sweltering summer, my arms coated with sweat as I flipped grains and nuts on baking sheets at five-minute intervals. I tended to my granola batches with doubtful affection, never quite believing I’d find the combination I longed for as I scoured the Internet and my cookbooks.

Cooks have often sung unequivocal praise for their granola. They’ll say: At last, I’ve found it, here is the secret ratio of oil to sweetener, here is the recipe you’ll be packing into jars to gift during the holidays! And indeed, there isn’t one, ideal recipe. It’s a matter of individual taste, isn’t it? For instance, I want mine to taste salty as salted butter, to have more nuts than oats, and to be golden, edging on brown.

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a casablanca postcard: chicken tagine

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guest post by Sarah Sahel

Cooking requires the constant devolution of time. It is a demanding and regular lover. It does not settle for compromises, but gives itself fully to persistence. Ever since I graduated from my masters two years ago and joined the more time-consuming “professional world,” cooking has become a one-time fling, and I am an ungrateful child, defeated by withdrawal. I don’t give enough, and I don’t get back.

Fortunately, August allows for long delayed encounters. It is that time of the year when time pauses with the gentle languor of summer. That time when people sit at a terrace to write postcards and send their love from… to friends and family. I took this opportunity to return home, to Casablanca, Morocco, and the foreign land embraced me with open arms.

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teriyaki sauce

guest post by Jason Ueda

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The first time my mom showed me how to make the sauce, she listed out the ingredients in her pleasant lilt of confidence: a cup of soy sauce, a cup of sugar, 1 to 1, turn on the heat, about this much garlic, the same for ginger, and about thiiis much of mirin. She uses a Japanese brand of pureed ginger and garlic that come in tubes, found next to the wasabi and karashi mustard in any Asian foods market. She told me this is the same recipe we use for shish kebab marinade and for her broiled chicken wings that crisp up outside and fall to morsels when taken hot from the oven.

We were making a glaze for chicken breast well after 8 since my mom worked in downtown LA, about an hour away with moderate traffic. To thicken for a gooey consistency, she added a teaspoon or so of cornstarch in a rice bowl and added a few tablespoons of hot water to make a smooth slurry before dropping it into the simmering pot; it plumed in the convection, she stirred and tasted, offered me a slurp, then with a definitive tap of her spoon over the pot lip, said it was about done.

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red onion salad

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My mother, who doesn’t like raw onion, scoops the raw slices with her chopsticks and crunches them with gusto. You would never guess that this is onion, she says, but only because it has been washed and soaked in cold water. We are in the middle of volcanic mountains, close to Mount Aso on the faraway Island of Kyushu. Our dinner is a series of complex dishes crowding our dark wooden table, each one stoking my warring affections. I am a befuddled guest, struggling to give each dish my love. I don’t know where to begin and my chopsticks shoot from plate to bowl to plate, whereas my mother, impassable as a monk, carefully lifts the salad bowl into the hollow of her hand and eats onions. They are white as peeled radish and crisp as raw fennel. They taste fresh like the mountain rain that falls beyond the dining room window. Only the subtle after note of spiciness suggests onionness.

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japan: koya-san, kyoto, kyushu

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I’m worried I won’t find my mother at the airport in Tokyo. I see her walking her usual stride: tiny quick steps, sometimes when she is in a rush her torso moves faster than her legs. She sits down next to me with excitement. We’re both like schoolgirls, bubbling, we haven’t returned to Japan in ten years. We arrive in Osaka yawning from the long flight. The small plane from Narita was almost empty. Most of the passengers were asleep during the turbulent flight, but I stared down at Mt. Fuji, emerging from the clouds like a blue nipple. The flight attendant told us in her melodious voice that the turbulence would not affect the safety of the aircraft. We eat cucumber pickles and onigiri grilled in shoyu. The rice ball has a hot brown crust. I eat two in five minutes, drink water, and go to sleep. The next day we wake up at five, our stomachs so empty we can hear them echoing as we brush our teeth. We eat a gigantic breakfast of rice, miso soup, pickles, tiny white fish (baby anchovies), gyoza, sticky rice, soft-boiled egg, and seaweed. The streets of Osaka are quiet, clean and smooth, like the surface of a manicured nail. The only sound is the beep of the streetlight when it turns green. At lunchtime we sit at a counter and watch a man pour batter onto cabbage for okonomiyaki. He makes two for us: one with cabbage and pork, the other with green leeks and pork. One is draped with a shoyu lemon sauce. We stab at them with our chopsticks while they sizzle on the hot metal plate.

Koya-san is in the mountains. There are Buddhist temples at every curve of the road. We stay at two different temples, though our favorite is Eko-in. I like its simplicity, and though the food is better at the other temple according to my mother, I know I’ll be returning to Eko-in. There’s a sign above the faucet saying: Only water comes out. It should say, only cold water comes out. The instructions for morning meditation say, “if you have difficulty sitting on the floor during meditation we can provide you with a chair.” I laugh imagining myself sitting in a tall chair while my mother is on her knees with the monks. After meditating at six we are greeted with a shojin ryori feast, the Zen Buddhist cuisine. My mother’s friend tells us that it is difficult for women to travel alone in Japan because hotels are hesitant to rent a room to a single woman. Why? I ask. Because women have a history of hanging themselves with the belt of a yukata robe, she says. She mimes the gesture of strangling and points at the wooden beam above our heads. We continue eating our vegetarian breakfast. We are told that the monks grind sesame for hours to make gomadofu, sesame tofu.

I walk down the winding, wet road and come across colorful wind chimes flapping outside a small café. I’m transported to my Rudolf Steiner years in Australia. Bon on Shya Café is owned by a French-Japanese couple. She is French and he is Japanese, a musician, fluent in Italian, French, and English. Véronique is an artist and has drawn a beautiful children’s book. My mother wants to purchase it but they haven’t found a publisher yet. Véronique’s childhood reminds me of my own. She was born in the US and moved to France when she was nine and then traveled the world. She lived in Greenpoint as an adult, and arrived to Japan with her husband seven years ago. How did you choose Koya-san? I ask. She shrugs and smiles. I ask if living in the mountains is difficult. She says not particularly. Some days are difficult, but living in a city has its own hardships.

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cooking with miyuki

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Cooking with Miyuki is like watching a quiet, gentle dance. She embodies a breed of elegance I’ve rarely seen: she wields a knife with the precision of cooking school training and coordinates four dishes with flawless timing, while telling me about her childhood in the outskirts of Tokyo. Her mother was too busy to cook so Miyuki was in charge of the family kitchen at a young age. I like her openness, the way she asks direct questions in French (Do I meditate like my mother? Do I find French men to be different from Americans?). We listen to jazz as the rice cooks and kombu plumps in water. Junka, her toddler son, loves to dance. He prods the speakers and sways to music. Then he pushes a stool to the counter and looks at his mother cook.

Dashi is the base of Japanese cuisine, Miyuki explains. We rarely use water. Dashi to make soup, simmer vegetables, or thin a salad dressing. There are two main ingredients in dashi: kombu (kelp) and bonito flakes, or dried shiitake mushrooms for a vegetarian broth.

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an egg affair

Pintxo Bar

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Dark curls of caramelized onions hide beneath a layer of egg. Thin slices of potatoes, softened with oil, coat the skillet. The Spanish tortilla has a delicate, rich flavor from a secret ingredient. I carve the tortilla with a spoon. Cod croquettes distract me for a bite, but I’m faithful to the eggs.

We are seated in the front room. The entrance of Huertas holds a beautiful bar made of wood shipped from an abandoned barnyard in Indiana. By eight pm the space is rowdy with east villagers drinking vermouth on tap. At Huertas, the vermouth is aromatized with spices, bittering roots, teas and citrus peal. Tiny dense orange slices sink to the bottom of the glasses. We prick them with our forks.

The restaurant is cut in half by the long, rectangular open kitchen. As we leave the front bar, we see eggs sitting in temperature-controlled water for the soft-boiled dishes. Jonah Miller, the chef, sprinkles pimentón onto sunny side eggs. The eggs elegantly arch over oven-roasted asparagus, purchased that very morning at the green market. Spring has arrived, so our server tells us. We eye the plates of cheese and cured meats as we glide towards the back room where a quiet oasis awaits us.

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