with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Small baby swaddled in creamy caramel blankets clutched to her chest, the woman in the supermarket line in front of me rattled on happily about the birth of her newest child, wondering that six weeks had already flown by. I smiled at her and exclaimed “and before you know it, 20 years will have elapsed” as I thought of my own babies, now grown men.
Each birthday is a time of reflection: where we have been, where we are now and where we are going. Wishes made as candles are blown out, eyes tightly shut, images of health, wealth and world peace flutter through our imagination; dreams float in and out and with each passing birthday, as we get older and the weeks and months between celebrations seem to grow shorter, we tick off our accomplishments on our fingers and make lists of what there is left to do; the years that once yawned before us seem numbered, our time now urgent and we wonder again if there will be enough time to get done all that we desire.
Yet that brief encounter at a place so banal as the supermarket, seeing one young woman’s face light up as she showed off her new baby, made me think of my own and I wonder if this is not my greatest accomplishment. I remember a letter once written to my brother so long ago during a rather rough period of my life when I counted happiness in moments spent with my husband, enumerated each struggle I faced living in a new country, how my days went with two small, headstrong boys; I felt locked in and going crazy, totally out of control and, need I say, as if I was going nowhere fast. My brother, always so thoughtful, so wise, so supportive, wrote back a long missive listing my accomplishments, reminding me that an extremely shy, small-town girl had picked up and moved abroad with no money and no help, married a Frenchman and was raising two multi-cultural sons; he pointed out that I had learned two foreign languages that I juggled on a daily basis in order to survive and get even my basic needs and those of my family met; he went on and on listing my achievements and exploits, forcing me to stare hard in the mirror of my own life and admit that, after all, I wasn’t a failure and that I had indeed done some pretty impressive things with the short number of years that had at the time so far been awarded me.
And years have flown by. Things have only gotten better; my husband and I now confront our troubles and worries as a team, encouraging each other, sharing, trying to understand the other’s confusion, difficulties and joys. We have gotten more adventurous as the years have scudded by, made changes, moved countries and cities, changed jobs as we have seen fit, as the urge, need, desire has come upon us. Maybe we have grown braver in the face of my brother’s illness and death, realizing that no one can be sure of how much time is left and that each and every moment should count, each new birthday a gift. Maybe as we have grown older and smarter we began to realize that we wanted to show our growing boys all that life can and should be, teach them the lesson that we can’t be afraid to face up to our dreams and that if we work hard enough we can make anything happen.
Okay, so birthdays make me sentimental and just slightly maudlin, I do admit. And another birthday has rolled around as they inevitably do and here I sit and think about… my sons. As I revealed and clarified in a previous post, my men are shy of the spotlight and none too thrilled with being mentioned in my writing, yet here I must reflect once again on how they began as adorable bambini and have grown into tall, handsome, fine young men. Clem, always the happy, chortling, gregarious tot, who ran before he could walk, chattered on and on before he could form words, frivolous and adventurous, has grown into a smart, ambitious, creative young man. My little Simon, thoughtful and quiet as a baby and toddler, careful, patient, eerily capable of too many things and having a capacity to read adults like some dark angel, sensitive and moody throughout his boyhood has become an honest, intellectual, generous, searching young adult just on the brink of his life. Both are kind, funny and clever, interested in the world around them, knowledgeable and cultivated. Both have the talent to tease their mother while making sure she is happy and safe, the capacity to drive her absolutely bonkers or outright into a rage while looking out for her well-being, protecting her while running her in circles. And both have the ability, in their pranks and jokes, to make me roll on the floor with laughter.
My husband and I are both on the point of starting over, beginning new careers, daring to find our true selves and put our happiness and our own satisfaction first; we focus on ourselves yet, looking around us, are astonished to see what our sons have become, astounded that we had a hand in creating two young adults that we are truly proud of. And watching and listening to them, sitting and talking and laughing with them, we realize that life has become just a little bit more satisfying and easier.
our children teach us what life is all about.
He continues to cook and I to bake. A brief interlude from the sweets for one more savory: an Endive and Cancoillotte Gratin, a recipe that jumped off of the page out of our latest issue of French Saveurs magazine. Cancoillotte is a creamy, thick yet almost liquid, sticky and rather elastic cheese from the Franche-Comté region of France with a flavor that is impossible to describe (think the best cheese fondu you have ever eaten). Warm up this flavorful treasure and it becomes liquid gold, unctuous, luxurious like the finest French silk rippling, sliding down one’s skin. Although thick and oh-so decadent, Cancoillotte is one of the least fatty of cheeses with only 2 to 8% fat. Heaven! This dairy product has a fascinating history: it was actually conceived by a cheese producer during the First World War when he had the idea to produce, sterilize and can cheese to be sent easily to the soldiers, les Poilus, on the front. 90% of the production of Cancoillotte still takes place in Franche-Comté. Not widely known, my husband introduced this treasure into our home many years ago and, I can easily say, once a spoon is dipped into the creamy cheese and lifted to the lips, once it is served melted on toast, an all-time favorite, it is impossible to stop until the last drop is licked clean from the pot.
JP twiddled a bit with the recipe and placed on the table before us this magnificent gratin, at once slightly bitter (braised endives), salty (chunks of smoked ham), garlicky and tangy with this marvelous cheese all at once, the pecans giving the gratin an earthy, satisfying bite. A decadent pleasure. I paired it with this month’s Bake Together recipe by my talented friend Abby Dodge, a peasant boule, which I jazzed up with a cup of finely grate Parmesan cheese and a handful or two of mixed seeds – pine nuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. The Peasant Boule is this month’s Bake Together recipe: follow #baketogether on Twitter and find out how you, too, can bake together with us!
I would like to share this bread with Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly celebration of yeast, Yeastspotting!
ENDIVE, LARDONS, PECANS & CANCOILLOTTE GRATIN
From Saveurs février 2012
6 – 9 endives, depending on quantity desired
1 small pot (250 g) cancoillotte for 6 endives (1 ½ pots for 9)
Handful cubed smoked lardoons or ham
2.3 – 2.6 oz (65 – 75 grams) coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
Finely minced clove of garlic
1 small bouillon cube, optional
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Remove the outer leaves of the endives and trim off the end; discard. Slice each endive in two lengthwise and either steam or braise in a small amount of water with about ½ a bouillon cube (if desired), for about 10 minutes until soft.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a baking dish (terra cotta or glass/pyrex) large enough to snugly hold all of the prepared endives in one layer. Line up the braised or steamed endives in a row in the prepared baking dish.
Briefly sauté the smoked lardons until browned. Sauté the lardons in a small amount of butter if desired.
Evenly distribute the minced garlic, the browned lardons and the chopped pecans over the endives. Salt and pepper. Pour the cancoillotte all over the endives and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. The cheese should be bubbly and beginning to brown around the edges.
ABBY’S PEASANT BOULE
1 recipe peasant boule
1 cup finely grated Parmesan or Comté cheese
½ to 1 cup mixed seeds
Follow the directions for Abby’s Bake Together peasant boule on her blog, blending the cheese and seeds in with the dry ingredients before forming into a dough.
The only changes I made were using salted butter for the bowl, the pan and the top of the bread. I brushed the surface of the dough twice: once before the second rising, as instructed, and once just before sprinkling more seeds on the top of the boule and baking.
I changed the size of the cake pan I baked the bread in; I believe this may have led to the top of the bread splitting during baking as well as that the center of the dough was underbaked. But we loved the bread even if not perfect and I will be baking this again very soon.