There is something magical that happens when your cooking and your reading and your weather all line up together. It’s 14 degrees today (for the high!) and it’s snowing big, fat flakes in every direction (for the second time this week!). With pure delight, I write this because it has been a very long time coming. Winter weather in the South is never usually this charismatic, so for an eternal snow lover like myself, these past few days have been absolutely fantastic.
I’m eighty pages into Ruth Reichl’s latest cookbook, My Kitchen Year, where it is also winter. Ruth is writing about the freezing temperatures and the snowy landscape in upstate New York and how the seductive aromas of long-simmering onions and butter and chicken and wine have the ability to both warm the stomach and the spirit.
Today, its Ruth’s birthday, so we thought it would be fun to make one (or two) of her recipes to compliment both the winter landscape we are reading about and the winter landscape we are actually experiencing. If you are unfamiliar with Ruth Reichl, she has been around the food scene since the 1970’s as a writer, chef, food critic, host and magazine editor in all realms of media from print to television to radio.
I first heard of her when I was a teenager, riding up the West Side Highway with my dad and my sister. At that point, in the early 1990’s, Ruth was the food critic for the New York Times. Her restaurant reviews would air on the morning commute segment of the local classical music station favorited by my dad as he battled his way through New York City traffic. The spot, sponsored by Veuve Clicquot, contained her latest restaurant review and was, to put it politely, very honest. More often than not, she disliked a restaurant or the food or the service and she wasn’t afraid to say so. She’d sign off every review saying “I’m Ruth Reichl” and my sister and I used to mimic her voice in the car.
Growing up in New York, where most endeavors get scrutinized on a daily basis, I was used to reading about reviews and hearing criticisms on a variety of subjects when it came to the creative arts and emerging trends. But the way Ruth talked about food and service and presentation was elevated to a whole new level of description. Her words were candid but also sophisticated and humorous when it came to observation. Each review was a brave, opinionated tale of her own experience that flew through the air seemingly without care as to whom it might affect at the restaurant of concern or what impression it might make of herself. The three us, my dad, my sister and I thought she was pretty audacious. We used her name as our own descriptive tool when it came to trying out restaurants in the city…”Well it’s no Ruth Reichl…” and all of us made special note to remember the names of the restaurants she lauded because certainly, they didn’t come around often.
Fast forward a decade and a half later, I spotted Tender at the Bone, a memoir she had published in the late 1990’s, for sale at an outdoor book stall in Philadelphia. I bought it, took it home and immediately called my sister. “I’m Ruth Reichl” she said and we both laughed over memories of driving with our dad on the West Side Highway. And then I actually read the book, which was marvelous and to my surprise, very vulnerable and humbling. There was no restaurant critic in her voice in these pages. It was all heart and humanity when it came to discussing family, food and growing up. And there were recipes – good ones, homey ones that everyone enjoyed – brownies, deviled eggs, pot roast, fruit tarts etc. I loved it so much, I immediately read her other two books which followed – Comfort Me With Apples and Sapphires and Garlic. Those books covered her young adult years in food, job and relationship explorations and then those famous years as a restaurant critic when her job was no easy slice of pie. These stories slashed through all my pre-conceived notions of who I thought Ruth was when I was a teenager and she was sponsored by a champagne company. And most importantly her books were my first introduction into reading food memoirs… not so much for the recipes but for the stories behind them.
For a long while, lots of things coming out of my kitchen stemmed from Ruth either in the form of recipes from her books or ones from her magazine, Gourmet, where she held down the fort as editor-in-chief. The food she featured always contained simple elegant ingredients that looked pretty on a plate and satisfied all the senses in a most appealing way. Even though I’ve never met her, Ruth has been a reliable companion in my kitchen, which brings us back to this post featuring her birthday celebration on today’s cold winter’s day. I selected these two recipes because, like the lively lady herself, they are full of depth and require some care and attention in a fun and fulfilling way. Also, they make the kitchen smell like heaven.
The vintage recipe, Show-Off Salad (aptly named because you prepare the whole thing at table in front of your fellow diners) is from Tender at the Bone and the classic yet modern day recipe Chicken Fricassee is from her latest cookbook My Kitchen Year.
Both recipes are a great representation of my memories of Ruth – they might seem a little fussy at first but at their core, they are just real, simple and basic dishes that have universal appeal. Hope you enjoy them just as much!
SHOW-OFF SALAD – Serves 4
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup cubed stale French bread
1 egg, organic, farm-raised
1 small head of romaine lettuce
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1/2 of a large lemon
4 anchovy fillets, cut into quarters
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese or more if desired
Make the croutons. Crush one clove of garlic and add it to two tablespoons of olive oil in a medium size pan over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and saute until the bread is crisp and golden on all sides. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.
Set a small pot of water to boil on the stove. Once the water is boiling, coddle the egg by dropping the entire egg (in its shell) into the water and boiling it for 1 minute. Remove the egg from the water and set aside.
Wash and dry the lettuce and then tear into bite-sized pieces.
This next step can be done in your kitchen – or in front of guests, it doesn’t matter either way. If you prepare it in front of guests, put all the salad components on a tray and carry it out to the table to make.
Peel the remaining clove of a garlic, cut it in half and crush one half in the bottom of a big salad bowl. Add lettuce leaves and remaining olive oil. Toss thoroughly until each leaf is coated. Add the Worcestershire, and then the salt and pepper to taste. Break the egg over the lettuce and toss until leaves glisten. Stick a fork into the lemon half and squeeze the juice over the salad. Toss the leaves until the dressing begins to look creamy. Then toss in the anchovies and mix again. Adjust the seasonings (salt, pepper, lemon juice) if need be before adding the cheese and croutons.
Now that the salad is ready, consider serving it on individual salad plates rather than next to the Chicken Fricassee which is saucy and is more suited for the crunchy bread as far as plate companions go. In addition to a dinner side, this salad also makes a lovely meal just on its own too.
CHICKEN FRICASSEE – Serves 4
(A small note: I varied this recipe a little bit just because of what we had on hand as far as ingredients in the Vintage Kitchen. Find our modifications in italics)
1 whole organic, free-range chicken, cut into 10 pieces or 1 package organic, free-range skinless boneless chicken cutlets
Shower the chicken with salt and pepper. If using a cut-up whole chicken: Melt two tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Place the chicken skin-side down and brown for five minutes on each side. Remove to a plate. (If using boneless skinless chicken cutlets… melt one tablespoon butter and two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown about 3 minutes on each side. Remove to a plate.)
In the same pan where you cooked the chicken, add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until vegetables are fragrant and soft- about 10 minutes – stirring occasionally.
Add two tablespoons of flour and cook, stirring continuously until all the fat has been absorbed. Add the white wine and stir until the liquid has thickened slightly. Return the chicken to the pan. Add the broth. Add a few sprigs of parsley, salt and pepper and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Partially cover and cook for about 30 minutes – 45 minutes until chicken yields when you pierce it with a fork.
In a separate pan, melt two tablespoons of butter (or two tablespoons of olive oil) and saute the mushrooms. Salt to taste and set aside.
When the chicken is ready, remove the lid and remove the chicken to a separate plate. Discard the herbs. Let the sauce mixture simmer for few more minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and cream together. Slowly add a small amount (about 1/2 cup) of the hot liquid to the eggs and cream and whisk quickly to temper it. Stir the egg mixture into the pan mixture, stirring constantly for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and the chicken. Add the juice of the lemon. Add one tablespoon of butter (or one tablespoon of olive oil).
Remove from heat and serve in a large bowl for the table or plate individually. Pool extra sauce around the chicken. Garnish with fresh parsley sprigs. We served this with warm crunchy French bread, the show-off salad and chilled Pinot Grigio.
In My Kitchen Year, Ruth said this recipe reminded her of when she was living on an island (Ile d’Oleron) off the coast of France in the 1960’s. This recipe will forever now remind us of the back-to-back snow days that finally arrived after many years of anticipation. Cheers to good memories, good cookbooks, and long acquaintances. Happy birthday Ruth Reichl!
As a child, Ms. Jeannie spent a lot of time in France, traveling about the country with her family. Home base was always The Crillon Hotel in Paris or the Loews Monte Carlo (now the Fairmont) on the French Riviera, but Ms. Jeannie’s parents insisted she and her sister know all of France including the waterways, so road trips (and boat trips!) were had.
Not having traveled back to France since she was about 15 years old, Ms. Jeannie retains a child-like wonder for all things French. Memories lean towards moments and feelings instead of specific places and experiences….rich hot chocolate, the sound of patent leather Mary Janes on marble floors, boat rides down the Seine, her first taste of risotto, lemony perfume, two cheek kisses, children’s books all in French, toothpick thin pommes frites and the secret “European language” Ms. Jeannie and her sister made up.
Ms. Jeannie’s France is all about terraced hillsides, Bastille Day fireworks, hours long luncheons. She recalls her mother’s bright orange Hermes shopping bags and a pair of fantastic red shoes Ms. Jeannie’s eight year old heart just had to have. There was a fretful play date with a French boy named Tomas, that ended in the throwing of toys and tears. There was the first time Ms. Jeannie saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, the first time she flirted with a boy on a mo-ped and the first time she played the game of petanque with a group of locals.
And then there was the last time she saw the Eiffel Tower.
It was a grey and rainy Paris afternoon. Ms. Jeannie didn’t want to leave. She tried wholeheartedly to convince her father to stay an extra day or two, but he was adamant about schedules and airplanes and life needing to be resumed back in the States. So home they went. Ms. Jeannie felt more than disappointed, not because she didn’t get her way, but because for the first time in her life she felt displaced. Caught between two worlds and two cultures at a tender age. That was the year that the feelings of wanderlust set in. And never quite let go.
Difficult to put into words, this combination of desire and unease, Ms. Jeannie was delighted to happen upon the contemporary photography of Yann Pendaries, whose work, both magical and moody conveys images of France that are both dream-like and real. His hot air balloon series, in particular are some of Ms. Jeannie’s favorites.
Those childhood days in France float around her mind just like that balloon floats around the photograph. Sometimes easy to spot, others times more difficult, but always there, always floating.
Below, read about the inspiration behind Yann’s work as he takes us on a little unexpected weekend getaway to his France, where we discuss all things cultural from art to wine to history.
Ms. Jeannie: So, you are a photographer based in Paris… is that where you grew up?
Yann Pendaries:I was born in the city of Orleans, where Joan of Arc played a part in the history of France … I spent part of my life there, and came to live in Paris in 2002.
MJ: What inspires you about your city? What are the top 5 places that inspire your work?
YP: Paris is a magical city that has withstood the din of war, one can still feel the medieval atmosphere through the narrow streets of the historic center, when you walk in the streets you can still discover new buildings or new stories.
Paris is endless images, every time I stroll through the city, I always discover new things which inspires my eye. My inspiration usually comes by chance, but most of the time especially in Paris. I have three main inspirations, colorful characters that I capture with great discretion…
…essential buildings like the Eiffel Tower (I try to magnify it with different angles)…
and last but not least, I love the gardens in Paris, my favorite being the Luxembourg Garden, in the center of Paris.
Why specifically this garden? For me it is very representative of Paris from the 1950s, where you can still find toys rentals (small wooden boats that children push with sticks on the fountain, and which exists since the 1940s), in any season this garden is beautiful with fountains, thousands of trees, horses where children can also take a ride. Look in my shop for Paris pictures and you will discover the love I have for this garden.
My last two inspirations have more to do with photographic creations, I try to make up magical worlds and I try to immerse the viewer in an idyllic world where dreams and poetry make you forget the worries of life.
I am currently working on two series, one is the hot balloon trip, to make you discover “my” Europe by scenery and lights I captured through my travels, and the other one is about the tiny trades self portraits; a little guy helps you understand for example how are created pretty things that you see all the time, I suppose that this way, you discover the beauty of simple things around you and afterwards you don’t look the same way at these small things in life.
MJ: How long have you called yourself a photographer? What drives your passion for it?
YP: I have officially been a professional photographer for 7 years, but have been keen on photography since the age of 9. In fact my father had an old film camera ; one day I decided to take it and make images for fun, and then I realized it was a way for me to express feelings I could not say otherwise. Thanks to photography I could also capture moments of sharing with friends and create memories of moments that lasted a second and which I would have surely forgotten now, but engraved on film for life the memories are everlasting.
And then over time I began studying photography a little more to discover photographers, to see exhibitions and to improve my eye. I tried several styles of photography with a lot of failure trying to imitate others, but I realize now that I have found my style and my world and this motivates me even more now (and photography is like a music instrument, the more you practice the easier it is to write light, like a music sheet), and every day I want to go further into my world and share it with others.
MJ: Describe your studio space.
YP: My studio is small but big enough for me to make my pictures, look, here is a photo to give you an idea of my space. Now you know my secret when I produce my images 🙂
MJ: Paris is full of magic – it’s people, it’s architecture, it’s culture. As a photographer, do you ever feel overwhelmed by it’s beauty? Are there things about living in Paris that you don’t like?
YP: No, Paris is a constant source of inspiration, because every street, every neighborhood, every building or cultural events are different and it always brings a new vision of things.
What I hate, as in all great cities of the world are the constant noise of cars, the people rushing to get from point A to point B without even looking around or looking up and discovering or re-discovering the beautiful neighborhoods. That’s why I like to isolate myself in the parks and gardens where it is so quiet and relaxing, or getting off the main streets and strolling along the tiny streets where there is virtually no-one.
This is also why I hate the Champs Elysees, where there only are expensive shops and which have no interest for me. Many tourists coming to Paris absolutely want to go on the Champs Elysees, but when foreign friends come to visit me I do not bring them there, I take them in the popular neighborhoods and make them discover the real Paris and usually they are thrilled to discover it.
MJ: If you didn’t live in France, where would live?
YP: Without hesitation, it would be in Berlin, Germany, I discovered this city 2 years ago and it was a revelation! The city is not really beautiful because it was ravaged by war, and post-war communism did not help, but there is a true cultural spirit, so many events are held there throughout the year.
Berliners are really nice and open minded people, and moreover, life is really not expensive, and it’s very nice to have some fun without spending much money.
MJ: Recently, you worked on a hot air balloon photo assignment. Can you explain a little about the project and what you gained from the experience – besides gorgeous photographs;)
YP: This project is intended to uncover Europe for people who do not know it, and to share the extraordinary landscapes you can find there, as well as perhaps make them want to come here. There are so many things to discover and to do that I felt compelled to share with you my experience, the fact of adding a hot balloon and create a real story with a little poetry to the point that some people sent me messages to ask me if I really was inside the hot air balloon was so much fun.
I also created a character, Aphiles, who tells through his diary his balloon adventures in each country. Why Aphiles, you can guess 🙂 I actually play with the name of the character Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 days, that’s it, my secret is out 🙂
MJ: Many of your photographs are romantic in nature, with dreamy settings, soft colors and love laced-themes. Does it take you a long time to set-up shots?
YP: The most of my outdoor photos are taken from live moments, without expecting that anything would happens. I’m here at time T and if something should happen it must be now, I will not wait 1h or 2 hours and cause the thing to happen, the best time is now and not tomorrow or in 1 hour.
For me the best lights are evening lights, which only last 15 minutes, so for me it is not worth it to wait, with this parameter I have very little time, I am here and I’m not going to be running to another place, this is my definition of time and present.
For other pictures, like the Tiny trades series, it usually takes me a full day to make a picture, because I have to take different elements separately, then I take a picture of myself and then digitally edit everything.
Sometimes the positions of objects do not fit to what I had in mind, and I have to start over. I really like doing this, and I have a lot of fun constructing the picture and adding personal effects that give a dreamy and poetic aspect to the image.
MJ: As an artist do you ever get frustrated about not being to communicate an idea through the lens? If so, how do you combat that?
YP: Sometimes I wish I could express specific ideas, and if I can not do it I may be a little frustrated at the time, but it does not matter, because I remember the idea and another time may arise when I can finally realize it, I have the whole life before me and thousands of opportunities can happen, you just have to be patient.
MJ: Your wife is an artist also, with a fashion-based Etsy shop, Malam. How is it being on the other side of the camera as her product model? Are you comfortable on both sides of the camera?
YP:In fact, I am very shy and I hate being in front of the camera! For me it is horrible, I do not know how to behave, I feel ridiculous and I’m afraid to look into the lens. But I do it for her, because I’m glad to help nonetheless ! However behind the camera I am very comfortable, it is for me like a barrier between the subject and myself. Behind the lens I can be confronted with the other without any problem, because it is like a masked ball, I can watch and take the pictures that I want when I want to.
MJ: One of Ms. Jeannie’s most favorite photographers is Robert Doisneau.
When asked about his recipe for success, he said “I put all my trust in intuition, which contributes so much more than rational thought. This is a commendable approach, because you need courage to be stupid – it’s so rare these days when there are so many intelligent people all over the place who’ve stopped looking because they’re so knowledgeable.” What are your thoughts on this as a fellow photographer? Do agree or disagree?
YP: I’m a real fan of Doisneau, I like how he took pictures of workers, he managed to capture from the 1940s to the 1980s the real world sometimes despised in historic and artistic work. (I am proud to tell you that it was her daughter who gave me my diploma in photography in 2005). In the same spirit, I suggest you look at the photographs of Willy Ronis that I really love too.
I did some pictures in this style (below), where I tried to recreate this world of the 1950s with a nostalgia for a beautiful and poetic life.
On his recipe for success I totally agree, I did not know it, I think ridicule does not kill, and I think you should always look further to reach a new thought. My Tiny trades series are an example of this : I create new trades while everyone believes that things are made in such or such way , but no, we can believe there is something else that may seem unbelievable and surreal, but can actually exist even if it’s only in our imagination.
MJ: What is one message you hope to convey through your photographs?
YP: I want to bring each person a little piece of well-being in their homes, going home after a hard day of work and just quickly look at my photography and for a millisecond to forget the worries of their life. If I can bring this little happiness I am the happiest, because I would love everyone to be at peace, and it is not easy today with everything that is happening in the world.
MJ: If you could live in any other time period in history, which would you choose and why?
YP: I would have loved to live in the 1950s, although I think that life was not easier than today, there were different problems, but I feel that life was simpler and slower. It is precisely thanks to R. Doisneau that I love this period, that I dream to live and walk in the streets of Paris with the sound of mirror salesmen who would shout in the streets: “glazier glazier!!”, By the way I have a little story to tell on this subject: when I arrived in Paris I lived in a 11m2 flat in Montmartre, sharing it with two mice :), and once a week, a knife grinder passed in the street with a bell, shouting “grinder grinder!!” it was really wonderful and there’s only in Paris that you can still see this kind of scene, so out of step with modern and electronic life, and this does a lot of good.
MJ: If you could do a photo shoot with any famous person, living or dead who would you pick and why?
YP: For me it would be Gandhi, this good and simple man managed to give India its independence without any bloodshed and in total peace. If all the Big men in the World could react like him, able to solve problems without weapons, just that of speech, heart and non-violence I think the world would be healthier.
MJ: What other artists influence your work?
YP: There are many, but most in the same area: humanist photography. There are of course as I have said above R.Doisneau, but there are also other more contemporary photographers like Raymond Depardon, Edouard Boubat, Andre Kertesz, Sebastiao Salgado, Josef Koudelka and many others, they inspired me a lot with their black and white images, always close to humans and poverty, but without prejudice to the characters that they captured, they’re just the messengers of these worlds, which are too little known to the public, and they manage to touch us and let us know that sometimes we forget these worlds, hidden behind our smartphones, while we rub shoulders every day.
MJ: If you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?
YP: Passion, dream, and sharing.
MJ: France has always been known throughout history, as an incubator for creative collaboration between writers and artists, whether it be in a simple cafe meeting or an evening salon. Do you think that is still true today? Do you have a similar support group that helps keep you inspired?
YP: I do not belong at all to a group other than the group of my friends over a glass of wine 🙂 There are probably many collectives still today, but I never never hear about them.
There is a real nostalgia of these famous groups where characters such as Louis Aragon, Picasso, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir met up for example in the Café de Flore in the district of St-Germain, you can imagine sulphurous discussions about art, society, politics, but now only the tourists go there, and the charm of begone years belongs to the past, this is also what has happened in this neighborhood where jazz was really everywhere. Now only restaurants and fashion boutiques take place alongside the sidewalks of this neighborhood where a part of France’s history was written in the postwar years until the 1970s.
MJ: Since you mentioned wine, please tell us your favorite…
YP: Without hesitation the Beaujolais, it is unfortunately not very liked by French people in general, because every year in September we celebrate the Beaujolais Nouveau, when the wine is very young and not very good! but when you discover the Beaujolais region in Burgundy, there are many small producers who make an excellent wine, they are called Fleurie, St. Amour, Windmill, Julienas, actually they are all names of villages of Beaujolais, and yes there is a village called Saint Amour (Holy Love in English 🙂 )
MJ: If we were in Paris for just one night, what restaurant would recommend for dinner?
YP: Then I would advise this reader to go to one of the oldest breweries in Paris: Chartier (7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, the 9th district), the restaurant has remained in the Art Nouveau style, it is really beautiful. Moreover, you can find legendary waiters with their legendary Parisian smile, which they have forgotten in the locker room :). Their menu offers traditional French cuisine and it’s not very expensive, but then you have to queue up a little to get a table. It is a real experience though, but I would not advise it for a lover’s evening, because you will never be quiet, between servers running around, the sounds of cooking, and the proximity of your neighbors, this may not be the most romantic evening ever. Go there though, you will not regret it.
MJ: Have you ever traveled to the U.S? If so, where did you go? If not, which state would you like to visit?
YP: Unfortunately, I’ve never been in the U.S.! However I sell a lot of my photographs in the U.S., they travel and discover the country for me :), As a result I know a little about the geography of the United States and especially about postcodes it’s funny 🙂
If there was one particular place I would like to visit, I think that it would be Arizona, with the desert, the mountains… I would feel like I am on another planet or immersed in an old western film… although I do not like westerns, but on a photographic point of view I’m sure I’d be living a daydream.
MJ: When you are not busy photographing (or modeling!), what other interests occupy your time? YP: I really have a sweet tooth so obviously something I love doing and which is always nice to my family and friends is cooking cakes and desserts! When I cook, I feel like I am taking a break, I always put in a background music of Django Reinhardt to give me rhythm .
This interview is part of an ongoing interview series, that Ms. Jeannie is orchestrating about artists, writers and musicians and their inspirations. To read other interviews in this series, simply click on the following links: