lundi 3 mai 2010

Je suis comme je suis

My first ever concert wasn't for a pop group or a cool singer most of my friends would have chosen but for an existentialist idol in her seventies. The audience consisted of mainly French people and I was perhaps the youngest there but it didn't bother me. In the auditorium which seemed both large and intimate, the warm up act took to the stage, a performer by the name of Yann Tiersen who I would later rediscover in Amélie playing on the xylophone, accordeon and numerous other instruments. But I was impatient to see the main act, a singer called Juliette Gréco. She came on a stage, empty except for some drums and a piano, beautiful and pale, dressed all in her characteristic black from head to foot. I remember she simply closed her eyes and began to sing, making dramatic gestures with those famous hands in the glare of the spotlight. At that time, she was already over seventy and the deep, sensual voice was rougher than in her earlier recordings. Yet no-one else could express the poetry of texts by Queneau, Prévert, Ferré, Brel and Gainsbourg. I no longer remember how long she sang for but the image that has stayed with me the most of is of her screaming Brel's "J'arrive!" into the night.

I have often thought back to that evening but especially after watching "An Education", the story of a young English girl who become involved with an older man. In many scenes, I felt as if I was watching myself; discussing Camus and existentialism, dreams of making it one day to sit in the cafés of St. Germain-des-Près and most all, listening to Gréco songs. As a teenager, I started to dye my hair black, wear thick eyeliner and most of all dress entirely in black. She gave me the courage to be different, not to care about what others thought and to immerse myself in post war French literature. I fell in love with the idea of becoming a philosopher like Simone de Beauvoir and teaching at the Sorbonne. Life was mine for the taking, to be shaped as I wanted to.

Sometimes I regret that the more idealistic part of myself has disappeared. I thought it would return during my trip to Paris in January but realised that I react differently to things. Places cannot make you the person that you were ten years ago when so much has happened in between. Yet some things stay the same; my hair is still jet black and there's the thick eyeliner. Whenever people ask me why I never have a suntan or if I'm a goth because of my love for black clothes, I simply reply "I am how I am."

There are no new photos I'm afraid, just some more from the Botanical Garden that I didn't have space to post last time.

Otherwise, there was the wonderful pound cake from Smitten Kitchen which I made again. I can only recommend it - recipe here. I made mine with raspberry coulis which worked really well.

I know I should finish with an existentialist recipe but to be honest, i'm not sure eating was that important for them. While it's true that Sartre and Beauvoir loved to eat in the best restaurants of Montparnasse in later life, the people in St. Germain-des-Près were more concerned with smoking and dancing to jazz in caves. So I'll post a recipe for Chrissi instead who asked me for something with rhubarb. Rhubarb tart is, of course, the most classic and obvious way to use rhubarb. For other inspiring ways of baking with it, there's Denise's star anis rhubarb, Luisa's rhubarb pie, Molly's roasted rhubarb and Tracy's rhubarb and strawberry compote.

Rhubarb tart (adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

1 sweet pastry shell (I stuck with the recipe I used at Easter which guarantees non shrink pastry).

For the pastry

1 whole egg
A splash of vanilla essence
50g icing sugar
200g plain flour
A good pinch of salt
125 cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

For the filling

1kg rhubarb (untrimmed weight)
300g caster sugar

1 small tub of mascarpone (about 250g)
100g cream cheese
100g double cream
2tbsp caster sugar

1. Wash and trim the rhubarb. Cut it into 2cm pieces and places in a shallow ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the sugar all over, cover with foil and bake at 190°C for about 45 mintues or until soft and juicy. Leave to cool, then strain it. I prefer not to keep the juice for the glaze because I think it makes the whole thing too sloppy but the choice is yours.
2. While it's cooling, make the pastry. Whisk together the egg, vanilla and icing sugar and 1 tbsp of cold water. In another bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add the cubes of butter and rub in with your fingertips until you have a texture like breadcrumbs. Add the egg mixture a little at a time and blend until the mixture sticks together.
3. Tip it out onto a work surface and press it together into a flattened ball. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
4. When the time's up, roll the pastry out onto a floured work surface until it fits a 23cm loose bottomed pie tin, leaving an overhang as thick as your finger. Repair any holes with leftover pastry, prick the bottom all over with a fork, press a piece of non-stick kitchen foil into the tin so it covers the pastry case and chill in the freezer for 20 minutes.
5. Fill the foil with dried beans, rice or pasta and bake in the oven at 180C for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and beans. Push the sides back up with your finger if they've drooped, then bake the uncovered case for another 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oven, trim off the excess pastry with a sharp knife and leave to cool to room temperature. Turn the oven down to 150C .
6. To put the tart together, whisk together the mascarpone,cream cheese and cream until soft and thick. Add the sugar and pour the cream mixture into the pastry case.

Best enjoyed on a perfect spring day.

21 commentaires:

  1. What a beautiful Bundt cake and tart! So droolworthy...

    Stay as you are as you are unique. I know what it is to be different... Diversity is great and needed!



  2. Hehe, "are you a goth?" what kind of question is that? I've been asked embarassingly often "what are you?" I'm like "uhh, what?"
    We just watched "An Education" too and I really enjoyed it but I thought the book was like one of those written after the movie numbers(as in, from the screenplay) because it was so atrocious so I was pleasantly surprised. Might be the only movie I've ever seen that was better than the book.

  3. I love all things french. I never had a dream to run away to France when I was younger, but would do it now in a heartbeat (dragging Roberto along with me—his only requirement that I learn the language—poor me, I must learn!). Thank you for the mention :)

  4. I absolutely loved An Education as well... That girl definitely talked to me! even though I've always looked for the opposit movement: leaving France. I guess it's difficult to dream of a country that's yours.

  5. @Rosa - Thanks for the inspiring comment. I really admire what you do too because I know you're not afraid to stand out from the crowd and that helps. The pound cake is truly a favourite of mine; I can't wait to make a variation with blueberries.
    @Sasa -What a stupid question to ask you! The goth thing is also silly; not all people who wear black are goths but I think they look pretty cool actually. Worse for me though are comments I constantly get (especially from Germans who love tanning) telling me I look unhealthy or that it's not normal to have white skin. They're what I call "sun fascists" who make me want to sit outside at noon. Personally, I don't see what's so healthy about soaking up UV rays. Once I tried to tan and got awful burn marks round my eyes and then the skin started to peel - not pretty...You're not the first person who's told me the book of "An Education" wasn't much good and it's rare indeed to have a film better than the book. I'm glad you loved the movie too.
    @Tracy - I didn't know you were also a francophile :-) Leaving for France seems like a brave step looking back, even if my dream didn't work out as I imagined. Do you also speak Italian? You rhubarb recipe looks amazing and I can't wait to try it.
    @Julie - It's such an amazing film and I could relate to so many things about the central character. I can understand what it's like to want to escape and of course, you relate to the things I love different simply because you grew up with that around you and it's part of your cultural heritage.

  6. Ah Vanessa! You were a Goth (sort of) before the name Goth was used to describe the look.
    I pretty much towed the line of normalcy...most of my generation did. But I still felt I was an individual; never felt I needed to make myself different to prove it. And I've led a happy, busy, challenging life. I think the 60's changed all that.
    My daughter moved to Paris for 6 years and loved it, loved the life. But she moved back here to open her own business in NYC. She still is a Parisian at heart.

  7. L'existentialisme me faisait aussi rêver au lycée (j'avais adoré les "mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée"). Comme recettes existentialistes, tu peux regarder chez Vian, la cuisine est tout de même très importante dans L'écume des Jours (par contre, je ne suis pas sûre que ça nous paraisse vraiment appétissant !).

  8. Lovely post, being different I believe makes you a better, most people are afraid to be different, all black..I lived in black everyday until recently..but I did just buy some super cool black leather the bundt, looks beautiful with the splash of color


  9. Hi first time here! What lovely recipes you have here! The cake looks fabulous!

  10. Hey! I think I made that pound cake too once. Scrumptious.
    Anyways, I like the way you talk about time passing and the way it affects us (or not.. but mostly it DOES affect us, I have to admit...).
    You are what you are is another version of a piece of wisdom that I like "It is what it is". Soothing in destressing situations...

  11. @Barbara - I don't think you need to look a certain way to be different and radical. I've never dressed to shock but chosen stuff that I liked; it was the others who found that strange.
    @Rose - Bon, je vais me plonger dans l'écume des jours pour trouver de l'inspiration. Dommage qu'on trouve rarement des anguilles dans le lavabo ;-)
    @Sweetlife - I like colours too, especially red which I think works great with dark hair. It's a pity that black has a reputation as morbid because I've always found it very elegant.
    @Sook - Welcome and thanks for your visit!
    @Pia - I remember that pound cake of yours - I think it was one of your first posts that I read. Thanks so much for the compliments; I don't know if I'm wise but telling myself things like that certainly helps when I'm around narrow minded people. Times passes without us noticing, then we suddenly find us attached to things which are no longer part of our lives but I try not to get too nostalgic.

  12. What a beautiful and reflective, heartfelt post - and one I am certain that each of us can relate to on a primal level. Growing up, and older, and over - or not over - things. Trying to capture, or re-capture who we one were, or thought we were... or felt. I have long grown past that phase in my life - but recall it with tenderness, yet the depth of pain and sense of loss no longer lingers - or even, exists. That is what happens with age, and experience, and growing and more experience and more relationships. I have found my foundation firm and strong and love to revisit the elusive memories and the me that I once was that was at times more than I am now (at least in my own mind), but usually one that didn't appreciate or admire herself when she should have.
    And then you bake.
    I love it.
    Thank you.

  13. Wow, your photographs are amazing!

  14. Vanessa
    I was stunned when I saw Juliette Gréco on your post! Wow! This brought me back decades! and then you go on talking about Simone de Beauvoir! I did not think anybody cared about her anymore! Did you read her letters to Algren? (her writer lover from Chicago?)
    Anyway, back to the cakes and tart, all magnificent; I am sure Simone did not bake like you do!

  15. @Valerie - Your comment really touched me but I find it hard to find the words to describe exactly what it made me feel - all I can say is thanks so much. It means a lot to me that what I say can have that effect on others too. Sometimes I think I'm too nostalgic but at the same time, I think I have learned so much and become stronger than ten years ago and I'm glad of that experience. Funnily, I often look at older photos of myself and think I looked nice but at the time, I didn't feel that way at all which is a pity.
    @Ali - Hey there, thanks so much!
    @Joumana - Actually, I've often thought I grew up in the wrong decade and still find it hard to get excited about the most modern gadgets my generation is into. It's great that we share the same tastes; Simone was a huge influence on my life and I still admire her very much. That book with her letters to Algren is truly one of my favourites; so honest, beautiful and moving. It has a special place on my bedside table. After reading her memoirs, I was always shocked that she used to go off walking for hours on end without eating anything. I'm not sure she would have shared my love of baking!

  16. When it comes to rhubarb recipes my favourite is a rhubarb/banana clafoutis with vanilla of my own (re)invention.
    As for the rest of your post... it sounds quite familiar to me (the general idea, not the details ;)).

  17. Mmm, I'll have to try that vatiation with the rhubarb and banana twist. Last year I made a really great clafoutis with cherries (the classic recipe) and thought what a wonderful dessert it is.

  18. Saw your profile on another page. Glad I read your interesting and well-written post. Look forward to following you here.


  19. It's always nice to get comments from new people so thanks for being brave enough ;-) I'll have to pay you a visit too.

  20. I love so much about this post. Your description of your first concert experience was a pleasure to read. I also like your response "I am how I am." It's a very healthy and confident view of self--admirable. Your cake and tart are both beautiful, I especially love your photograph of the rhubarb tart. My rhubarb this year has been quite red, but now you've inspired me to find some green rhubarb. The green in your tart photograph is so pretty.

  21. Wow, I feel so flattered to hear things like that about my writing from you because I so admire your style. Thanks for all the wonderful comments. There comes a certain point of your life when you have to accept things and who you are, even if there's always room for improvement ;-) There are days when I'm less confident but that's normal. Funnily, with the rhubarb I'm looking out for the really pink stuff right now and remember how good yours looked.