Heureuse Année! All through the month of January, this sing-song phrase is on the French lips of all my neighbors-- postmistress, garbagemen, supermarket clerk, farmers, etc. Wishing a Happy New Year is a month-long ritual often punctuated with a card wishing for luck and prosperity (The Pig), accompanied by a box of chocolates or an envelope with a 10€ or 20€ note tucked inside as thanks for a year of faithful services. It’s a kind reminder to look forward and backward with equal appreciation. And I’ll take these small French reminders over a raucous NYE party anytime.
What about yourself? Do you offer good wishes, health, and prosperity for the year, a bright note of hope for the near future or did you get worn down by this last sun's cycle.? I can’t wait for a whole year to start anew. I like to reset most mornings after a good night's sleep; a fast rousing from dreams with a burst of morning energy to start the day. I am at my brightest first thing as the sun rises, even if it is hiding behind a dense veil of fog like it did earlier this week. Today, the first day of 2022, the early fog lifted quickly and many small birds high in the poplar trees began announcing a good week ahead with sunny days and colder nights in store—less a weather report and more a general proclamation of hope and positivity. While the global view might be grimmer than I want, I concentrate on what’s cooking within my four thick kitchen walls and without—in the growing chaos of a winter garden. These are the parts of the world I can manage as I plan a supper, plant some late bulbs or study the espaliered pear trees that will need pruning. And that’s enough, isn’t it?
Pain de Méture
But the real gift at the beginning of any New Year for me is always a return to the basics in my kitchen—the Gascon Basics. This is a good time to take an accounting of what I haven’t cooked enough of this winter—more beans, more charcuterie, and more savory baking like the Pain de Méture that I worked on with French baker Kamel Saci for Saveur magazine a couple of years ago. I hadn’t made one since- a heavy sourdough cornbread baked in a cabbage leaf and originating in the Landes and Bearn area of Southwest France. Instead, I made some mini-métures using a muffin tin and simpler classic cornbread recipe: 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup finely milled corn meal, 1 Tbs baking powder, a pinch of salt, 2 eggs, 1/3 cup of oil or melted butter, 1 cup of milk. Mix quickly and pour into the well-oiled muffin tins lined with cabbage leaves. Bake for 25 minutes at 180’C / 350’F . the cornbread rises and crackles on top and the cabbage leaves get crispy on the edges . I served them along side a long-braised Daube de Boeuf made with oxtails and beef cheeks. Both recipes were videoed for the last video class of 2021.
Daube de Boeuf and petits Pains de Méture
I also look for something new. Until recently, really recently, I never made a Gascon Croustade that flaky filo-like paper-thin pastry from scratch. Now, I am hooked on the gentle pulling and stretching of the strudel-like dough and will continue to make it until I perfect my own techniques. While experience and muscle memory serves us well in the kitchen, don't forget the thrill of learning something new and diving deeper into the culinary terroir of a recipe. In fact, that is what inspired me to offer just a few three-day live online workshops this year—a deeper dive the Gascon basics, and a few new exciting directions— charcuterie and cassoulet for sure, as well as farmhouse desserts, wood-fired cooking, and a Harvest Gathering of kindred spirits for a Sunday Supper club. More information about all these now on my website and open for booking.
Hear what I say about cooking in my Kitchen at Camont as Andrew Kelly and I were shooting some of the Club Camont membership videos.
I entered this year as a 70 year old. It’s startling and a bit shocking still but I am in good company. Artists and musicians are as inspiring in their silver years as the tik-tok generation is to the young. We live longer, better, healthier- and I trust happier- lives these days. There’s not much I can do about the first three all the time but I can manage the happier part. Everyday. It doesn’t take much to indulge my curiosity, share the natural beauty of my French homeland, and appreciate the gifts offered to me. There is plenty of firewood this year. The pastry is full of duck confit. Chica and Terre are velcroed to me while I write. The garden is green and full of songbirds under a sunny blue sky. There are friends in the kitchen and there are students waiting for the first workshops of the new year. Enjoy your own happy place, no matter how small, and I’ll see you in the kitchen soon.
And a très grand merci for your support and attention all through this first year of teaching online. Have questions? drop me a line!
Warmest Gascon Wishes for 2022,
P.S. Le Weekend Workshop #1: Camp Cassoulet is now scheduled for Jan. 14-16: