And so the ship came

RECIPE:   OLD-FASHIONED HAZELNUT COOKIES

Take a branch and stick it in the sand. Walk around and let it form a line that follows you around.

When I was about 12, I started a personal ritual whereby I would think about the present as a sort of end-line to everything that preceded it. The moment didn’t have to be remarkable or have any reason to be remembered, it was usually a random point in time that I exercised this awareness: the first one was in a parking lot of a strip mall in L.A. Looking down at my feet as I rattled a shopping cart toward the entrance of Target to buy school supplies, following my mother’s lead and thinking about the steps. Where they had been. And where they would go.Old-fashioned hazelnut cookies 2 | Infinite belly

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This habit led to developing a kind of muscle in my brain that from time to time would ask me to check-in. Here I am. “This is the latest”. A line appeared behind me showing my path to this exact point, the infinitesimal “now” of my personal cartography. I was standing at the edge that kept moving forth, never stagnant.

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My grandfather‘s name was Sigmund. Like Freud. But he was known to his friends as Zigu. And he didn’t smoke pipes nor write about the oceanic sentiment. He read the Estado de São Paulo newspaper and taught me how to count to 100 while I sat on his lap on the beach in Guarujá. I know little about his youth in Romania, except that he was born in Bucarest in 1923 and lived in a close-knit Jewish community until the end of World War II.

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His dream was to move to Paris, where one of his friends was living. After the war, he managed to leave the country with false papers, but before arriving in France, he received a telegram from this same friend saying that post-war Paris was awful and many were starving. Changing course, he made his way south to Marseille, where he knew he could get on a ship that would take him to Israel. American soldiers were leaving the area after France was liberated, so refugees came and lived in the former military barracks near the calanques, the stunning rocky bays along the Mediterranean coast. Zigu was there, waiting for a ship that would take him to the land he had heard so much about. But the ship wouldn’t come.

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It was hard to get precise information about this kind of thing, most of it was word of mouth. A telegram here and there could help, the radio and newspapers also gave often reliable information. After many tense days in waiting, he could not take it anymore. He told himself that if the ship didn’t come that night, he would just go to Paris, even if life there may be very difficult. The ship came.
I can picture him waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of the ship’s arrival. Men hollering near the port, people packing their things up, alerting others of the news. That line of the present “here I am” about to take a drastic turn.

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Little did he know that his ship would get intercepted by the British Royal Navy and that he would live in a camp in Cyprus for a year. Or that, after a few years in Israel, he would leave with my grandmother, Lydia, and their 2 year-old son, Ilan — my father — to start a new life in Brazil. And he would be even more stunned to find out that the grandson he held on his lap would go on to live in the city of his dreams, only to move later to the city where he transited, and hesitated, and left.
Wooden spoon illustration | Infinite belly
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Old-fashioned hazelnut cookies  |  Makes app. 40 pieces 


Continue reading “And so the ship came”

Hello Marseille!

RECIPES:   SAKÉ & HONEY ROASTED ASPARAGUS PUFF TARTS + GOAT CHEESE & BASIL   |   CURED EGG YOLKS

Honey roasted asparagus & goat cheese puff tarts 2 | Infinite belly

If Auvergne is green and brown all over, Marseille is blue by nature and black by spray paint. Reserved, Auvergne is surrounded by volcanoes and mostly unknown. Marseille is the loudest person in the room, the life of the party. The former smells like mushrooms in the fall and cows in the spring, the latter of sea and brick-oven pizza, but also trash flying in the mighty gusts of the mistral wind. In Verne, our neighbors were gentle, quiet souls who knew about self-reliance, building with their hands. When the city speaks, it’s a babble of Mediterranean tongues, a spectrum of tones in cheeky Marseillais accent; garlic and sea-salt give character to the breath and coarse hair to the passerby. The pizza man down the street is a genius, a descendant of Italians who dreams of moving his business to Brazil, dropping statistical and critical knowledge on the past 30 years of French political economy while putting mozzarella and cayenne pepper on the white dough. In the massif central the woods have soft, mythical names such as Montregard and Saint-Bonnet le Froid, while warm southern tones in Castellane and La Joliette over here make me think of the traffic, the noise, or the platters of fresh seafood served in a terrace while a guitar player sings Santana, cruise ships gliding behind.

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Leaving our cottage back in Haute-Loire, Mr. and Mrs. Rabeyrin were sad to see us go. As we loaded things in the truck they pulled up in their van and I came by the window. Mr. Rabeyrin had a brown paper bag with some goodies from Verne: a glass jar of rare autumn honey (only found once every six years) and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône Villages that he called un petit canon, which I interpreted as a “little boost”. But canon is actually a unit of measurement for wine that dates back to the 16th century. Other friends also came by and gave us some laurel leaves and a pumpkin that is for now decorating our living room.

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On one of my first aimless walks around town, I stumbled upon Marseille’s music conservatory. Strangely, even though music has been such an important part of my life, I don’t think I have ever spent quality time in a conservatory! I guess those European temples of tradition sound a little bit daunting and austere from afar.

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But on that Saturday it happened to be open house and the place was filled with families and teachers playing music and talking about classes, styles, and ensembles. I felt like one of the giddy little kids sitting next to me on the floor watching the adults play and trying to pick which instrument I would like to learn. Cello? Percussion? Electro-acoustic composition?

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A maze of aged rose and white halls reminded me of something between the Sorbonne and Hogwarts with its unexpected turns, ornate wooden doors, ballet dancers, hidden passageways, sideburn-donning fathers holding their daughters’ hands, empty practice rooms, silence, steps, windows revealing a courtyard full of rowdy children, a couple of teenagers flirting by the entrance, the boy taking his shoes off for no apparent reason and pretending to swim belly-down on his chair, parents lining up nearby to see a lecture on drama.

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My head spun and I found myself in a large room, a library full of old leather-bound books, clean but slightly rundown, spots on the ceiling revealing the missing chandeliers of another time. A husky asian boy was singing an aria from a French opera, I don’t know the composer but it was a comic scene with a chorus of boys and girls that rehearsed a call and response, alternating jeering and cheering the soloist. I lost track of time and hours went by like this, going from door to door…

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When I finally left to get fresh air outside, the sound of a James Brown groove from the block above summoned me to a park where a pétanque tournament was going on. A wide view of the city revealed the Notre-Dame de la Garde church standing at the highest point on a distant hill pointing to the sky; the mother saint that welcomed the sailors of yore still looks over a city that is easy to call home.

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Saké and honey roasted asparagus puff tarts
with goat cheese & basil + cured egg yolk   |   Serves 6 


Continue reading “Hello Marseille!”

Cat therapy

RECIPE:   PEAR & PRALINÉ HAZELNUT PIE + COCOA CRUST

Pear & praliné hazelnut tart 7 | Infinite belly

We venture into town only when necessary, and usually that is to buy bread or go to the post office. In the car we look forward with the same blank expression while listening to talk radio. I approach the post office and pass by people I don’t know, often asking myself who they are, what they are thinking, who they’re coming home to, what they had for lunch. Sometimes I get overwhelmed trying to imagine the immensity of thoughts, feelings, and memories contained in each of those individuals I will never get to know.

Whisk illustration | Infinite bellyPear & praliné hazelnut tart 9 | Infinite belly

But this year I am spending a lot of time getting to know cats. I never had one before. Never even lived with any animal at all actually. Now I have three. And sometimes they seem like these familiar strangers you see in a small village like Lapte or Grazac, living in proximity, yet unknowable.

I always wanted to ask Gaston, the tabby chubby cat we found at the pastry school stuck in an air vent, how did he survive the long Auvergne winter in the wild at below zero temperatures? Did he eat ungodly amounts of macarons and other pastry leftovers in the trash? That would explain his taste for desserts, unusual for a cat, I heard. And Frida, whom we rescued in the forest with a paw cut off. We were looking for mushrooms when this emaciated figure meowed towards us. Did she live in a house before? What happened to her paw? How did she end up in the deep of these remote woods?

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There’s also Boris, a kitten born in a nearby farm who decided to make our house his home (or maybe Adélaïde lured him in…). I still don’t understand why he meows like crazy every time I am about to feed him, as though I might suddenly change my mind. And he has another very special kind of meow the two others don’t have, like a little song, rolling and curling up, keen, high-pitched, mischievous.
During the warm months, they lived mysterious lives in the fields. We would let them out during the day and each one headed a different way, following his or her nose, looking for fast-moving objects to chase and grab. We managed to rescue quite a few little Cinderella shrews. When the sun would set on the far side of a grassy field, I could make out Gaston’s plump outline. I would call out his name, and like a dog, he would run back. Frida would stay close by, basking in the last rays of sun on our doorstep. Boris was too afraid to go to the outside world yet, but occupied himself at home all day scavenging for food scraps in unsuspected spots of the kitchen or the pantry if we forgot to lock the door.

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I feel like I know them so well, yet I will never know the things they see and do on these days. All the houses, gardens, hidden nooks that they frequent remain secret. I will never know what happened when Frida went missing for four days after a terrible stormy night. Sometimes, Adélaide and I muse about putting GoPro cameras on them to see what we would discover.

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We puzzle at their quirks as if they were children, entertaining the illusion they are unique when truly, they are probably like most other cats out there (although their latest fancy is to almost exclusively drink their water from an antique wine glass we have to leave on the kitchen table and fill up several times per day). Gaston has a propensity to find a cozy resting spot in a cupboard and has taken a liking for a golden teddy bear he carries around, forming the shape of massive lumberjack beard under his tiny head. Frida is a finicky one; she is often averse to petting, but will unpredictably perch herself on our laps and purr away for as long as we stay still, although she may bite your finger off out of the blue with unrivaled fury. She stands regally aside, gazing obliquely at the room to avoid getting entangled in kitten wrestling games, strategically standing next to the tap so that she can drink from it whenever we let her. Sometimes, she tries to devour our hair in our sleep which is absolutely terrifying.

Boris the kitten | Infinite belly

I often surprise myself singing songs to them, saying their names borrowing accents from Bollywood movies or Bob Marley or telenovelas. I also like to rewrite lyrics to old Spanish tunes and Broadway hits based on their personalities and freestyle (stupid) rhymes. On an especially productive morning, I even made a song for Frida inspired by Animal Collective.

Ornament illustration | Infinite bellyWhile their presence can veer from cute to annoying and back in a matter of seconds, what stays with me from getting to know them this past year has been how naked I can feel in front of them. They know us just as well as we know them. They know when I am about to wake up and feed them, they know if I am tired or angry, cheerful or rested. They look at me with their curious eyes and perceive my presence, intuit my thoughts. It makes one feel naked — not as in vulnerable, but as in equal to them, as just another animal doing the same basic things and living a similar existence.

Ribbon illustration | Infinite bellyPear & praliné hazelnut tart | Infinite belly


Pear & praliné hazelnut pie + cocoa crust  |  Serves 6-8


Continue reading “Cat therapy”

Serendipity

RECIPE:   SQUASH, BEETROOT + RICOTTA GLUTEN-FREE GALETTE

We originally created this recipe to share on our fellow blogger’s Brendon the Smiling Chef‘s beautiful site, where he elaborates delicious recipes in Sydney, Australia. In turn, Brendon will soon share one of his favorite dishes with us!

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When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender,
this I could not do;

I took my gun and vanished.

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This song gives me the chills as I drive through the green pastures surrounding our cottage. Slowing down on the curvy road, the trunks of pine-trees turn to gold with sunrise. It could almost be the set of an old Hollywood movie, like the ones you see at the Universal Studios train ride. Vibrations rhythmically bounce around me inside the car as Leonard Cohen’s version of The Partisan takes my mind back in time with its descending steps of bass notes and arpeggio motif on guitar strings. His voice is dark like the deep of these woods.

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An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;

she died without a whisper.

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It’s an English version of La Complainte du Partisan, a French resistance song from the second World War. At the time the Germans occupied the country, thousands of Jews, resistants, Communists… found shelter and hid in these very hills I drive by, these sleepy farms and villages like Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, where they survived thanks to the wilderness and the local villagers.Wooden spoon illustration | Infinite belly

there were three of us this morning 
I’m the only one this evening
but I must go on

the frontiers are my prison

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The song conjures so many images and feelings, things that I would rather not think about but that cannot be forgotten. I ask myself what it would have been like to be here 70 years ago, to be on the run from the Nazis and the collaborators. I can feel that the relationship to memory here is somewhat different. The soil was wounded in its flesh. The trees and walls and windows and fences would have stories to tell. Terrible stories. Beautiful stories too. It is an odd thing to wander around the silent remnants of anonymous, faceless crimes and rescues.

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Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we’ll come from the shadows. 

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Squash, beetroot & ricotta
+ chestnut & rice flour gluten-free crust galette  |  Serves 4-6


Continue reading “Serendipity”

The beauty of French dragonflies

RECIPE:   GARBANZO BEANS MASALA + ZUCCHINI & SPINACH    |    CREAMY MASALA SAUCE

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I turn it up all the way to hear over the sounds of sizzling shallots coming from the pan in front of me. The radio talks about everything, and while my hands are busy chopping vegetables and uncovering steaming pots, it’s a relief to let it run through a slew of topics: elections, the Havana film festival, discoveries in astrophysics, etc… just when my mind starts to wander I’m drawn back by an Alabama Shakes track. No topic is left uncovered. And always taken to the brainiest extent (e.g. I would have never guessed that organized sports were not popular in the U.S. until after the Civil War because they used to be associated with European aristocracy and English domination!).Basket illustration | Infinite bellyColorful doors in French village | Infinite bellyMasala creamy sauce & peppers | Infinite bellyLadle illustration | Infinite bellyBut today the show I listened to was about a very French subject. An excruciatingly divisive debate in the French Academy that’s been tearing society apart for decades: Spelling. Four voices alternate opinions, rising and falling in their allotted times. The kitchen sounds are louder than expected and I have a hard time hearing everything but I catch some snippets: “the genius of the French language”, “the 1990 orthography reform project”, “a literary nation”, “the poetics of language” — like the word for dragonfly, libelulle, with four “L’s”, a letter that phonetically sounds like the word “ailes” meaning “wings” — as one interlocutor calls it, “a symbiosis of biology and orthography”, in which both the animal and the word referring to it have the same physical characteristics. With the proposed changes, schoolchildren would have less supposedly useless accents to memorize, less dashes, less superfluous consonants.

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The questions from callers continue to pile up. Is orthography an art or a science? Does it even matter that much or isn’t it more important to simply teach students to love reading great books? At that point the four voices culminate into a cacophony of linguistic arguments. One of them says, half-joking, that the subject of spelling touches a nerve in France, much like the way that the subject of gun control polarizes Americans. The French have turned their writers into stars, high priests of a literary religion. In no other country have writers enjoyed such high status. Bernard Pivot — a literary critic and former host of a wildly popular TV show about books, Apostrophes — recounts how as a child, he read new words in the Larousse dictionary and thought of them as new friends that he would gradually get to know better over a lifetime. We can love, hate, or love-hate them. Words are our friends but also our enemies, our slaves and our masters.

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“Word” is mot” in French, phonetically recalling “maux” (same pronunciation) which means “evils”. There’s a heaviness to it, something to be confronted and deciphered like Sartre’s autobiography, Les Mots. In Portuguese, palavra, sounds like abracadabra with its rhythmic vowels. “Word” is a unit, it’s Microsoft Word, it’s the cog in a mechanical system, the brick and mortar of sentences and paragraphs.
There is also the French word “chat” (the “t” is silent) meaning “cat”, which in Portuguese sounds like “chá” meaning “tea”, and is written like the English word used to describe early Internet forums. Reverse it and it works as well: “gato” is the word for cat in Portuguese but sounds like “gâteau”, meaning “cake” in French. And somehow when I find myself talking to my cats I end up having a brief mental image of a teacup with cake…Caldron illustration | Infinite bellyChickpeas massala | Infinite belly


Masala garbanzo beans + zucchini & spinach  |  Serves 2-4


Continue reading “The beauty of French dragonflies”

Memory’s fictions

RECIPE:   PINE NUT, RUM & LEMON GOLDEN PIE

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When I was 6 years old, I was forced to eat a tomato for the first time during summer camp. It was in a long and narrow room buzzing with hyperactive kids at mealtime. Taking my hand and dragging me to a place where the red slivers full of seeds and geometrical innards were displayed, the counselor, I still don’t know for what reason, took one and plainly inserted it in my mouth.
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For many years, when recounting this story, I would conclude it with a grand finale that featured my vomit all over the floor, screams and cries. But with time, I revised this ending, coming to the realization that I must have spit the tomato back in the counselor’s face. As distance from the original event blurs an already foggy image, I begin to seriously doubt many of the details of my testimony. Was I really wearing my favorite stripy shirt? Was the counselor’s name Tomas and did he really have a curly mustache that I’ve ever since associated to tomatoes? Did the other kids actually jeer when they saw my overblown reaction?
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Luckily, I have a lot of other food memories, most of which are very pleasant: Eating fish and chips on rickety wooden tables covered in newspaper at grandma’s favorite place on the Redondo Beach pier. The chocolate ice cream cake I had on my tenth birthday. Long sunday afternoons spent with my family at the leafy patio of a Mexican restaurant bordering the water near the San Pedro port. We would order fajitas and a while later they would come sizzling in a hot platter with fresh tortillas. Enormous ships passed by as we assembled our tacos and took bets on whether they would really fit under the suspension bridge marking the port entrance. Matzeball soup. Gefiltefish. (Never mind, the latter is not exactly a pleasant experience).

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There is something about a taste, the experience of eating a delicious (or repulsive) meal that impregnates the mind with a kernel of memory that is more resilient and less prone to be forgotten than most banal experiences of daily life. But what about when memories are simply invented? Today, I don’t remember what I ate exactly two weeks ago, but if somebody I trust, say, Adélaïde, told me that I had a magret de canard, I would probably believe her.
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Not only that, but I might even visualize the memory, depending on how much detail is given. It scares me sometimes when I believe recalling an exact event, like storing a valuable in a particular place, only to find out that I was totally wrong. The images in my brain recalling that event were completely fabricated. How much of our past is fiction?

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The elasticity of our memories drives me to think of the range of moods and feelings that alter perceptions of ourselves and the world. In accessing the past through memory, we are always selecting and editing from the archive of a constantly evolving personal history. Not to mention the fact that the very way we reflect on particular events also changes over time and according to experience. Maybe the revision of my tomato memory occurred after eating so many delicious tomatoes that I simply cannot believe it was ever this bad… I guess exercising awareness of this fact is a way to gain greater autonomy over something that seems uncontrollable?
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Pine nut, rum & lemon golden pie  |  Serves 6 


Continue reading “Memory’s fictions”

The last of the Cucurbitae

RECIPE:   ROASTED PUMPKIN SILKY VELOUTÉ + ESPELETTE PEPPER

Roasted pumpkin soup | Infinite belly

I had my work cut out: A solid chunk of grass to remove to make way for a vegetable patch. The kind of thing I imagined only doing in peaceful old age. It’s actually quite the workout, twisting and tearing grass from the ground with all my strength; it’s almost a violent act. When I was already sweating halfway through, I felt rain pouring on my back. This was months ago, when we first decided to grow edibles in our garden.

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Ornament | Infinite bellyAfter planting seeds & seedlings (carrots, arugula, potatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, wild strawberries, raspberries) it seemed like so much effort for an as-of-yet intangible result. I stared at the invisible vegetables sitting in that piece of land, imagining what they would look like after a bit of time, care and patience. It’s a work in progress and will always be both unfinished and complete, unveiling itself in its various states throughout the seasons.

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Cucurbita on the other hand, all these beautiful varieties of squash, pumpkins, butternuts, etc., appeared as somewhat intimidating; they seemed to spring out of thin air, so visible and robust, even in large gardens. We did not dare plant any even though we later heard they’re not that complicated to grow. It may have been their great size and bright colors we thought we’d never be able to foster. And for months, we peered over the wall separating our yard from the neighbors’, admiring the endless varieties of vegetables & fruits they were cultivating and feeling a little anxious that our progeny would come out with the wrong colors, monstrous shapes, odd tastes.

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Now, as our patch is covered in a thick carpet of snow and as we empty our pantry in preparation for the move, we have one last beautiful cucurbita to prepare, given to us weeks ago by our friendly neighbors. It’s been standing by itself in the cold, amongst the shelves, like a strange sculpture waiting to be turned into soup. Its day has come. Vintage ladle & raw pumpkin | Infinite bellyRoasted pumpkin soup & antiquity shop in Craponne | Infinite belly copy


Roasted pumpkin silky velouté + Espelette pepper
|  Serves 4-6 


Continue reading “The last of the Cucurbitae”

On movement

RECIPE:   ROASTED FENNEL & LEMON FEUILLETÉ + POPPY SEEDS

Fennel & lemon feuilleté 1 | Infinite belly

One day I came back home to find one of my best friends sitting in the kitchen, grinning at me as if he had just pulled the prank of the year. I hadn’t seen Harley in a long time. On a hot June day of the canicule, he flew in from New York without telling us, to make a surprise. Since we live in a lieu-dit, a place without street names nor house numbers, all he had was a picture and the name of our hamlet, Verne, that he showed to the bewildered but sprite young taxi driver at the train station in Saint-Etienne. Finding it difficult to locate the appropriate stone farmhouse — knocking door to door and asking in rusty French if they knew of a Brazilian-American guy and his pastry chef wife didn’t seem to work (one person got really suspicious of his harlequinesque appearance, repeating to him in French “I don’t want to buy anything, I don’t want to buy anything!”) — he finally found our house by consulting with the Lapte Mairie or Town Hall for precise directions.

Window in the village of Craponne | Infinite belly

Only Adélaïde was at home so when I came back I was in total shock, like I had just seen a ghost. There he was, wearing a baby blue linen suit, trying out our jams on our wooden farm table in the kitchen, staring back at me and desperately trying to contain his mirth when I entered. He told me that our homemade brioche & jam was the best thing he had ever eaten.
A couple of days later, after Harley went back to the U.S., the Rabeyrin’s, our landlords and friends, were scratching their heads at how somebody could come from so far away and stay for such a short period of time. I’m not sure if they have ever met an American before (besides me), let alone an exuberant New Yorker with a flair for extravagant surprises.

Fennel & lemon feuilleté 5 | Infinite bellyLa Chaise-Dieu, Auvergne landscape | Infinite belly

This led me to think about how little I have moved around this year, in contrast to other times in my life. We stayed put in Haute-Loire, occasionally taking the car to Marseille and Paris to visit family (which is already a lot of moving around for some standards). Naturally, we stayed close to home and explored the region. In the end, we discovered that there was such a world of villages and sights to see in our immediate surroundings that the excitement of rural exploration made us feel like there was no need to go far away to discover an interesting place.

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It will soon be one year since we’ve moved to Auvergne, one year of cooking almost every day, of taking the small roads. We know Grazac and its snowy trails, the best boucherie in St.-Agrève, a majestic cathedral where a medieval pope is buried in La-Chaise-Dieu, Crapponne-sur-Arzon, a virtually unknown gem of a village that stands frozen in time, and le Chambon-sur-Lignon with its antiquity and book stores & its Saturday market bringing together the greatest regional goat cheese producers in the space of a few stands. We climbed volcanoes for the views, combed forests for mushrooms, and in the process explored neighborhoods of leaves and moss and the infinitely minute populations living in a square foot of earth.

In the village of Craponne | Infinite bellyFennel & lemon feuilleté 4 | Infinite belly

Walter Benjamin examined and exalted the figure of the flâneur: the quintessential observer of modern life who dallied about Paris at the turn of the century, strolling through its arcades full of shops and fashionable people — but who nevertheless remained somewhat distant from the object he was observing, removed in his thoughts. Balzac called flânerie “the gastronomy of the eye”. It would be facile and probably incorrect to say we were rural flâneurs, because after so many cups of tea with our neighbors, walking and photographing the roads and trails surrounding our house, after so many hours in our garden getting our hands full of dirt and plants or having meals with friends in the warm months, we mingled with and imbibed a good gulp of life in the country.
Next month we will move to Marseille. We will continue our posts, but they will look and feel different. There will be seafood, sun, bazaars, and another pace of life. We will surely continue to write about Auvergne, as this year has marked us deeply and the stream of memories, stories, and images that we have to share from here is far from running out.

Fennel & lemon feuilleté 2 | Infinite belly Basket | Infinite belly

Fennel & lemon feuilleté 10 | Infinite belly


Roasted fennel & lemon feuilleté + poppy seeds  |  Serves 4-6


Continue reading “On movement”

How to make a perfect pie crust

CLASSIC PIE CRUST RECIPE   |   12 USEFUL TIPS

Perfect pie crust is easy. It is fast, it is cheap and it is delicious. A homemade pie crust is the key to any good pie and will truly make a difference! Here’s how professional pastry chefs make it here in France (recipe from Alain Ducasse’s chef school); you don’t need to be experienced nor have any special equipment.

Piecrust tutorial 6 | Infinite belly

Whisk | Infinite belly

Pie crust tutorial | Infinite belly


Classic pie crust | For 2 pies (app. 25cm baking pans)


Continue reading “How to make a perfect pie crust”

A Love Suprême

RECIPES:   FESTIVE ROASTED GUINEAFOWL + CHESTNUTS   |   SAVORY PEARS   |   GLAZED WINTER CARROTS

Guineafowl 6 | Infinite bellySpilt wine | Infinite belly

I never thought I’d live in a stone house. In California, tradition (and earthquake codes) requires supple wood, whether it was used to build a Reconstruction era Victorian house in Haight-Ashbury, a rustic cabin in Big Sur, or a McMansion in Orange County. Many were built en masse, tract homes covering entire neighborhoods that over decades gained new wings, stories, and windows that today engulf the original. But here in rural France as I drive through any given road I pass by stone houses with crooked walls and slanted roofs.

Leaf | Infinite bellyRaw carrots & pears | Infinite bellyA Christmas meal | Infinite belly

A large red truck can be seen at the entrance of a barn, chickens and ducks roam freely and I have to slow the car down to a crawl. The earth is anything but flat; bumps and slopes abound, and yet human dwellings and farms are well adapted to this tumultuous landscape. Not all stone houses are equal, but it takes a while to tell them apart. Gradually, I develop a preference for stones of certain colors and sizes, old wooden blinds painted to match the front door, and a montée de grange or barn ramp that is so typical of houses in this part of Auvergne.

Village door | Infinite belly

Wooden spoon | Infinite bellyRaw pears for roasting | Infinite bellyStatue in Clermont-Ferrand | Infinite belly

In the Loire Valley further up north, the very light pierre calcaire reigns and paints the charming local hue. Conservationists scratch their heads to find ways to preserve the buildings as this material easily erodes and has become difficult to replace. Two weeks ago we saw something completely different and equally impressive when we drove to Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of the Auvergne region, a city whose buildings were made using pitch-black volcanic stones. Clermont-Ferrand's cathedral | Infinite bellyClermont-Ferrand's cathedral & vintage carafe | Infinite belly

Caldron | Infinite belly

I will never forget parking in front of the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption cathedral and facing the stare of this imposing gothic building. Even more impressive is the inside: the dark stone produces a contrasted relationship with light, which in turn reflects ethereally on stained-glass windows, engulfed by silence. 

A Christmas feast 7 | Infinite bellyA Christmas feast 11 | Infinite bellyVintage silver & garlic | Infinite belly

In the area near our home, stones come in shades ranging from light beige to dark gray, with a reddish-brown type thrown in once in a while. Some of the older walls combine small and large stones to produce a heterogenous but sturdy whole. On our walks we notice how some houses were altered by tearing a wall down and replacing it with a large glass panel window, juxtaposing transparent and solid. Once in a while, usually in the higher altitude areas close to the ski lodges, a Swiss-style wooden chalet appears and surprises us.

Glass | Infinite bellyAuvergne village | Infinite bellyA Christmas feast 8 | Infinite belly

I spend so much time in these thick stone walls, safe from the cold air and in a way cut off from the rest of the world. I’m certainly not the first to say that food is intimately connected with memory, but the process of cooking is an excellent vehicle for mental time travel.
Boris the cat | Infinite bellyAndré at the feast & handmade bowl | Infinite belly
I first had a pintade (Guineafowl) for lunch at a brasserie on Rue du Bac, back when we were living in Paris. (This vein of the 7th arrondissement begins by the Bon Marché department store and flows down to the Seine, bringing with it the choicest of papeteries or stationary stores, conceptual pastry shops, boutiques full of delicate objects for the aesthetically sensitive and of good fortune).
Guineafowl & frost | infinite belly
Ribbon | Infinite belly
Vintage embroidered cloth & pears | Infinite belly
At the time we walked to work together almost every morning, weather permitting. We started by Hotel de Ville, passing through the lock-laden Pont des Arts where this symbol of love carried so much weight that it threatened to bring a centuries-old bridge down. Dropping off Adélaïde by her office in a publishing house I would then reach my final destination in the 8th arrondissement. I was certainly aware of how lucky we were; I made sure to walk as much as possible even though it took me about an hour, avoiding at all costs the convenient but crowded metro commute on Line 1, reeking of Chanel nº5 on the way to La Défense.
Roasted pears 3 | Infinite belly
Time permitting, I would hop across the Seine at lunchtime and meet up with Adélaïde on rue du Bac. While I was usually happy ordering a steak frites, the menu proposed a suprême de pintade with mustard and potatoes.
A Christmas feast 2 | Infinite belly
“Suprême” sounded intriguing, like some special sauce that is only rarely served because it is so good people don’t want to spoil it. It turns out that it just means the “upper” or superior part of the bird, that is, thigh and breast. But the guinea fowl was a succulent discovery, and I think any festive occasion is a good excuse to try something special like this, in a warm place with four walls, be it wood or stone.
Egg basket | Infinite belly
A Christmas feast 5 | Infinite belly

Festive roasted guineafowl + chestnuts, savory pears & glazed winter carrots
| Serves 4-6


Continue reading “A Love Suprême”

The poached peach preach

RECIPE:   POACHED PEACH + VERBENA & CANDIED HAZELNUT BRETON SABLÉS

Poached peach & verbena tartlets 3 | Infinite belly

At first, I wanted to write about Henry David Thoreau. Having read — like almost anyone else who went to High School in the U.S. or uses social media — passages of Walden and Civil Disobedience, I thought I could make an analogy between his Walden Pond and our Lac de Devesset, places to ponder on life and explore nature. Thoreau is so quotable and his prose is so sure; “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! ” could have made a great title for this post.

Poached peach & verbena tartlets 10 | Infinite belly

But the genies of the Internet wanted it otherwise, for the first search I did to refresh my memory on this ragged American philosopher led to an article in The Atlantic that sought to cast some serious doubts on his positive reputation as a rather cool, abolitionist philosopher of nature and freedom of conscience, who beseeched us to “suck the marrow” out of life as those who have seen Dead Poets Society surely remember. As this debate spread from The Atlantic to The New Yorker to The New Republic, I’m still reeling from the cacophony and thinking about all the different angles from which you can look at one person. One thing that is undisputed, however, is that Thoreau was in love with the fauna and flora of Walden. His knowledge on plant species over his eight years spent there is still a reference today.

Lake reflections | Infinite bellyRibbon | Infinite bellyPoached peach & verbena tartlets | Infinite belly

While far from being plant taxonomists, we did find out about a particularly tasty plant that is typical of Auvergne and specifically our county, Haute-Loire. Verbena, or vervain.

Poached peach & verbena tartlets 8 | Infinite bellyBreton shortbread & plant | Infinite bellyHazelnuts & sky at dusk | Infinite belly

A large Art Deco building is easily noticeable by the road that cuts through the pilgrims’ town of Le Puy-en-Velay. At the top of its ornate tower, large letters read “Verveine du Velay”. I stared, confused at first sight by this seemingly converted office building next to a FNAC (the local book & music store) that must have been quite important when it was built. Verbena, Adélaïde explained, is a plant that is used to make a strong liqueur that is very popular here in Auvergne.Funnel | Infinite bellyWe found bottles of artisanal Verveine being sold at a farm products store in the town’s medieval center; I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised when I first tried this herbal liqueur. Drinking verbena is like taking an antique homeopathic medication that gives you the “green” and fresh taste of a wheatgrass shot, and a warm inner glow.

Frosted plant | Infinite belly

Another time, we experienced this aromatic plant in a completely different context. Looking at the menu at our friend’s restaurant, we were intrigued by a dish of chicken with ground hazelnuts and verbena. A mouthful made me realize the obvious. The herb itself is an excellent ingredient for cooking. It has a slight citrus taste and gives off an incredible aroma when combined with hazelnuts. The locals also love it as tea.

Poached peach & verbena tartlets 6 | Infinite bellyOrnament | Infinite belly
By a lake at dusk | Infinite belly

On our monthly visit to the local plant store, we had a clear mission. Find one or two plants that could be put in pots on the floor but would grow high enough with lots of foliage in order to partly cover our big living-room windows. But as is often the case in such a place, we get so lost looking at all of the varieties of orchids, hanging plants, quirky cactuses and succulents, that we always end up packing our car with newfound greens to fill a corner of our cottage. 
Lake at dusk | Infinite belly
Poached peach & verbena tartlets 5 | Infinite bellyEgg basket | Infinite bellyLake reflections 2 | Infinite belly

We found a beautiful verbena plant, thin branches going in all directions, sprouting avenues of tiny aromatic leaves crowding the sidewalks. It almost looks like a carefully crafted and delicate bonsai. Out of the many experiments done using this herb, my favorite has to be the poached peaches on Breton sablé and cream.

Poached peach & verbena tartlets 9 | Infinite belly


Poached peach + verbena & candied hazelnut Breton sablés | Serves 8


Continue reading “The poached peach preach”

Nostalgia

RECIPES:   HOMEMADE BURGER BUNS   |   GROUND TURKEY MINI BURGERS   |   PEANUT SATAY SAUCE   |   INDONESIAN “GADO GADO” SALAD

Magical portal | Infinite belly

For a brief spell after graduating from college, I lived in a loft in San Francisco with a few friends. It was a chaotic time when everyone was taking different paths but subconsciously wished that student life would never come to an end. Some were working from 9 to late hours, others were making films and photography. Still, others like myself were reflecting on what to do next. 

Satay sauce ground turkey burgers | Infinite bellySatay sauce in copper pot | Infinite belly

The best memories from life in SOMA (“South of Market Street” area) were the nights when we invited friends and projected films ranging from There Will be Blood to Pootie Tang. We would serve decadent hot dogs wrapped in bacon, “piggy backs” as I like to call them, in the style of the street food you can find on corners of the Mission District; we would eat on the roof while looking at the San Francisco skyline. 

Satay sauce ground turkey burgers | Infinite belly copyBread for burger buns | Infinite belly

The next morning we would walk a couple of blocks over to Susie’s diner for breakfast. Run by two cheerful Chinese ladies, with classic Coke style letter boards and exposed metal on the walls, it was a simple and old-school, shabby but clean diner where we could sit together over coffee and be at ease to talk about last night’s movie and our projects for the next few years, memories from college and current events, jokes and philosophy. It was far from gourmet, but dining is just as much about your surroundings and state of mind as it is about the food. Bacon, eggs, sausage, and orange juice never tasted as good as in those mornings. 

Adélaïde baking | Infinite bellyBurger buns | Infinite belly

Feeling nostalgic, I decided to look up “Susie’s café” online and found out, alas, that it has been permanently closed. In my commiseration for the passing of this cherished place, I read pages and pages of its reviews on Yelp. I was surprised (and entertained) by the polarized debate surrounding the merits and faults of this humble neighborhood joint. One reviewer, Tyler C., compared the owners to his “aunts, but even nicer”, while Bridget P. warned, “The service is hella mean… They will yell at you like it’s no one’s business”. Some expressed that they were “scared to try this place because it is on the same lot as ‘Ed’s auto service’ ”, while others defended the shabby look and the dishes cooked “just the way your mom would make them if you were stumbling home and begged her to make you something to eat and she was nice enough to whip it together.” Whatever the final verdict on its service and gastronomic qualities may be, having a meal there always made me feel great.
Sheep | Infinite belly

A few weeks ago we discovered an American diner in Le Puy-en-Velay, one of the major towns “close to” our hamlet. Entering this room with pictures of Route 66 and the sounds of classic Elvis tracks made me chuckle a little, but the burgers were to die for! We rarely associate France with burgers, and with good reason, but I’ve had some of my best here. The wave of trendy burger joints that invaded Paris these past few years has apparently reached Auvergne. These Franco-American establishments offer an unbeatable combination: regional French ingredients like cantal cheese and foie gras meet the American invention of casual dining.

Satay sauce ground turkey burgers | Infinite bellyPeelings & stone wall | Infinite bellyShadows | Infinite belly

With our minds on these havens of casual dining, Adélaïde and I decided today to make burgers using whichever ingredients we had in stock. Since we had time on our hands, we decided to go all the way, bake our own buns and also try out a new salad that would go well with the peanut sauce. The result is in the recipe below!

Satay sauce ground turkey burgers | Infinite bellySatay sauce ground turkey burgers | Infinite belly


Satay sauce + ground turkey mini burgers | Serves 2


Continue reading “Nostalgia”

It’s “koh-sheen-yahs”

RECIPE:   BRAZILIAN MINI CHICKEN COXINHAS

Brazilian coxinhas | Infinite belly
What would Thanksgiving look like outside the United States? In France, you might have cailles aux raisins or cannette à l’orange instead of Turkey, marrons d’Ardèche for stuffing, a gratin dauphinois on the side, and a bottle of red Burgundy wine to seal the deal. In Brazil, you could spend days slow-cooking a sumptuous feijoada with your meat of choice or vegetarian, plenty of couve (green cabbage) and rice to absorb the juices, ridiculously icy cold beer to refresh from the summer heat, and a unanimously loved appetizer called coxinha (pronouced koh-sheen-yah).Brazilian coxinhas | Infinite bellyRibbon | Infinite belly
Meaning “little thigh”, it’s a pear-shaped breaded nugget that can be eaten on the street or made at home, for parties, for barbecues, for anytime. For that hour watching the tide as you wait for your ferry to arrive and take you to Ilha Grande, off the coast of Rio. For that dusty bus stop on the way to the verdant canyons of Chapada Diamantina after leaving Salvador and passing through the desert backlands of Bahia. For an after-school snack you buy from the street vendor in your neighborhood in São Paulo. Even for breakfast when you’re a snobby French person who thinks the bread served by her in-laws is not real bread.
Brazilian coxinhas | Infinite belly Wooden spoon | Infinite belly
Knot on wire by a field | Infinite belly
The recipe below is for mini coxinhas, although they can be made larger if so desired. My favorite kind is coxinha de frango (chicken), but you also find vegetarian ones, just with cheese (ideally catupiry) or any other filling you can think of. Like pulled pork!! So whether you’re preparing a meal for dozens of people or just want to have something to snack on at home, you will not be disappointed.
Skillet | Infinite belly
Brazilian coxinhas | Infinite belly

Brazilian chicken coxinhas — coxinhas de frango |
for about 23 mini
coxinhas


Continue reading “It’s “koh-sheen-yahs””

10 essential mushroom foraging tips

Basket | Infinite belly

Just a year ago, we had never foraged nor found mushrooms in the wild and hardly knew how to distinguish different species from one another. After countless hours spent in our local forests and quite a few beginner’s mistakes, here’s what we learned about mushroom foraging:

10 essential mushroom foraging tips | Infinite belly Continue reading “10 essential mushroom foraging tips”

There once was a castle

RECIPE:   SWEET QUAILS, ZANTE CURRANTS & ROASTED GRAPES   |   RED CABBAGE BRAISED IN CIDER

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

On Sunday morning, we left the house early instead of sleeping in, drawn like magnets to the crisp blue outdoors and looking forward to a long hike. We headed to a trail that began by a town named Retournac, rising on the banks of the Loire River. The same Loire that flows by the famed valley in between Paris and Brittany. But here in Auvergne we are at the source, also known as the upper Loire or Haute-Loire.

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

Branches at fall, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Cake pan | Infinite belly

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

Red cabbage casserole & Auvergne country-side | Infinite belly

Glass | Infinite belly

Here, there are less castles and more spacious farmhouses of verdant walls, less people on a weekend getaway and more signs for fresh goat cheese. The trail led us to a steep hill going away from all main roads. “That’s usually where the best spots are,” I thought to myself, almost out of breath after the climb. We gazed at a stone house with its own pool for swimming laps, bordered by the same stones that compose the house. Donkeys, chickens, so many animals were walking around at ease. Looking up from the house, we spot a stone structure at the top of the next hill, a kind of Auvergnat Acropolis majestically posed at the peak of our trail.

View from Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

The ruins point to the sky. The Château d’Artias, as it is called, was passed down from baron to baron for one-thousand years. After the Revolution, it was turned into a stone quarry until it became considered protected heritage. A train rolled by just as we looked out from the top at the breathtaking landscape. It sounded like a train from 200 years ago, wheels and tracks bumping rhythmically, but looking closely I saw it was a TER (the regional public transportation).

Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Ornament | Infinite belly

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

Zante currant & roasted garlic | Infinite belly

Back home, we made cailles aux raisins de corinthe, quails with grapes & Zante currants, one of Adélaïde’s all-time favorites (as it is often the case, because it’s one of her granny’s specialties, and also because of its somewhat exotic name). The Greek city of Corinth used to be the main exporter of these sweet raisins. I always found quails a little fastidious because of how much cutting up is involved — “so many bones, so little flesh”, one might say. But their delicate, slightly gamey taste is worth the trouble. The first time I had them roasted in a sweet sauce, they completely won me over. And as mamie Madeleine benevolently puts it, “puisque ce sont des cailles, avec les doigts, c’est permis” — “since these are quails, using your fingers is allowed”.

Fresh grapes & Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Artias castle ruins, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

As it turns out, this very dish was ridiculed by Alfred Hitchcock in his movie Frenzy. A British detective in charge of finding the serial killer terrorizing London, is being starved by his wife’s attempts to make sophisticated French cuisine at home — with most strange-looking and unappetizing results. Dark humor aside, this recipe is great for any festive, family meal, and can be prepared with any other bird (chicken, turkey…), by changing the roasting time.

Cutlery | Infinite belly

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly

Zante currant roasted sweet quails | Infinite belly


Sweet quails, Zante currants & roasted grapes served with
red cabbage braised in cider | Serves 2


Continue reading “There once was a castle”

Gingery road

RECIPE:   GINGER-INFUSED DARK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

I sometimes get the impression that we live in a timeless, unchanging part of the world. Since the volcanoes have carved and engraved the landscape millions of years ago, it’s easy to automatically look at the farms, cattle, and villages in the same way. The sun rises and sets over the fields around Verne, the fields that have always and will always be there. The only thing that changes during the year is the point in nature’s cycle of growth and decay. Similarly, I have been thinking that the way we live here today is probably not unlike the way people lived here half a century ago, and it will continue looking like this far into the future. In short, I thought of country life as being somehow outside of history. But a long talk with the Rabeyrin’s made me realize I have been completely wrong about the Verne of yore.

Ginger chocolate mousse | Infinite belly

Yesterday, I dropped by their house to give them the ginger chocolate mousse Adélaïde had just made and they insisted that I stay and have a cassis (blackcurrant) apéritif with them. Unable to resist the offer (they make their own crème de cassis, which diluted with a little bit of water tastes amazing and is very refreshing), I succumbed and we began chatting about the indian summer, winter vegetables, how to raise, slaughter, pluck and prepare a duck, beekeeping… the usual subjects of casual conversation. As they recounted episodes of village life and raising a family, I asked Madame Rabeyrin where she is from originally (it is curious to note that, after almost a year of knowing our landlords, we still address each other as “Monsieur” and “Madame”). With a coy smile she said, “Oh not at all from here! I’m from a village close to Dunières”. Dunières is about a 20 minute drive but to her (and to a lot of people we meet) that kind of distance means it’s a totally different place. And Monsieur Rabeyrin? “I’m from Verne, born and raised” he said with a proud look on his face. His father owned a stone shaping factory where they would prepare the material that would go into making houses as well as tombstones and memorials. “So you must know so much about the area, all of the families in the region, the different generations, no?” I inquired. He was affirmative. “Everyone knows us here. Well, a lot of relatives live in Verne. My cousin lives two houses up the street from you by the iron cross facing the field, and my uncle was married to a woman who ran a café by the church, the Café Pradier. Now there are less people around, some have passed, others are retired so we see them less often”.

Ginger chocolate mousse | Infinite belly

The woods of Verne, Auvergne, France | Infinite bellyAdélaïde in Verne, Auvergne, France | Infinite bellyVerne, I found out, was not always the sleepy hamlet it is today. Young people used to be able to easily find work in the area. Agricultural production and cattle raising were in full swing, and textile factories hired many people. When the textile industry declined, they were replaced by plastic factories; “plastic saved us” M. Rabeyrin likes to say. In Verne alone, there used to be four cafés (!), a boulangerie (bakery), and an épicerie (grocery store)! One of the cafés had live music on Sundays, and people would gather there after church for a drink, or as they call it un verre d’amitié, “drink of friendship”. “That was where we first met,” Madame Rabeyrin casually mentioned, and I tried to imagine them as a young and handsome couple, dancing in a crowded room full of life and joy and laughter, the clanking of glass and clouds of cigarette smoke, and of course the bouncy accordion and crooning vocals of the bal musette.

Coffee cup | Infinite belly

Today that street is a busy highway. Many cars and trucks pass by, but one sees few people and no commerce whatsoever. The Café Pradier, with its faded out façade and closed door, is not open for business anymore, although at times I’ve seen an elderly lady looking out the window through the white lace curtains. The tables are still there, but the former customers have passed or are now older and less prone to leave home. With less and less opportunities for finding work, the new generations left to go to the big cities, Saint-Étienne or Lyon.

André walking by Café Pradier, Verne, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Ginger chocolate mousse | Infinite belly

I felt a strange mix of emotions after hearing all these stories; people had such a good quality of life here, living close to nature while rooted in the land their families had lived in for generations. The region hasn’t lost its beauty, but there are certainly less people, and those memories become faded like a postcard of a forgotten place that was once so vibrant.

Wild flowers | Infinite belly

Adélaïde picking wild flowers | Infinite belly

A walk in the woods, the road to the lake | Infinite belly

The Rabeyrin’s could read my thoughts, but they didn’t seem as worried. They still have their beautiful vegetables, chickens and ducks, sunsets, and fresh air. “That’s just how it is, the old generations go but new ones will come”, they seemed strangely confident as they reassured me. They cited some reasons: people can work from home now and many choose to live in the countryside. And who knows, maybe immigrants will also bring new life to this part of France. Although there will surely be waves of growth and decrease, it is precisely the timeless aspects of life here that will always keep bringing people back.

Book on spices | Infinite belly

Dirt road & wild flowers | Infinite belly

Whisk | Infinite belly

Chocolate mousse was my favorite dessert growing up in Brazil. For years, I knew it by its Portuguese pronunciation — moossy gee chocolâchee. Here we used a small amount of sugar and added a more adult ingredient, ginger, to make things fizzle just a bit.

Ginger chocolate mousse 4 | Infinite belly


Ginger-infused dark chocolate mousse | Serves 8-10


Continue reading “Gingery road”

The music is in the pie

RECIPE: PARMESAN & BASIL SHORTCRUST ZUCCHINI GARDEN PIE

Parmesan, basil & zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

Yesterday we made a garden pie. A bright yellow parmesan & basil shortcrust topped with caramelized shallots and a long green spiral of zucchini, punctuated with toasted pine nuts. The kind of pie that manages to make you feel healthy for days while being unbearably good. From the first whiff of those sizzling shallots, we got in the cooking zone. By that I mean the feeling I get when I’m progressively hungrier as I cook and just take in all of the odors and colors in anticipation of the meal I’m about to put in my belly.

Iridescent leaf | Infinite bellyParmesan, basil & zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

Naturally this leads to singing. Cooking goes so well with music because your hands are busy, but the part of your brain that takes care of music is at liberty to listen and hum along. Nothing to do with getting bogged down while multitasking on a computer. On the contrary, it probably helps with the creative act of home cooking, inspiring you and putting you in the right mood to make a delicious meal.

That morning, the sky was brightening up and our moods soared in anticipation of another indian summer day. Without even thinking, I doodled a bit on the piano and began singing one of the songs from a French movie we love, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. There are too many great things about this 60’s musical film: bright colors, feel-good songs, poetic lyrics, witty characters who constantly sing and dance, the setting in a small southern French town in the 60’s…

Parmesan, basil & zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

Ornament | Infinite belly

Parmesan, basil & zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

We actually got obsessed with that movie to a point I didn’t think was possible. I don’t know if it’s the pure brilliance of the dialogues and music, the transcendental beauty of Catherine Deneuve and Gene Kelly, the great mood in which we already were when I saw it for the first time at a local Cinéclub reunion, or what combination of factors resulted in this, but it has been over six months now and we are still going around the house, the car, the supermarket and the woods, singing and humming the themes from this movie, especially when we cook.

Vintage plates, cutlery & lichen | Infinite belly

Cutlery | Infinite belly

Chopped shallots | Infinite belly

One unforgettable scene is when Maxence, a sailor in the navy (who also happens to be a handsome painter, of course), sits at the counter of an art deco café in the middle of the city square, and sings about searching all over the world for his idéal féminin — his feminine “Ideal” — and not finding it but knowing that such a woman must exist. The intensity of his song takes over the whole café, including the regulars who stop what they are doing and join him in a choir. The café turns into a secular temple, music fills the room like in a cathedral echoing off the walls and transforming that moment into a spiritual one in an otherwise mundane, everyday place.

So yesterday while I was playing, Adélaïde rummaged through our fridge and pantry and laid out a bunch of ingredients on the table. A colorful, delicious vegetable pie was to be made. I like to think that the music inspired us and that the pie looks and tastes like Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. At least, that’s what we sang and had in mind as we chopped, mixed, kneaded, stirred, baked, ate and enjoyed.

Parmesan & basil zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

Feuille | Infinite belly

Parmesan & basil zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly


Parmesan & basil shortcrust zucchini garden pie | Serves 6


Continue reading “The music is in the pie”

There will be beets

 RECIPE: RUBY BEET SOUP & GOAT CHEESE FOAM

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

Today we drove one of our cats, Gaston, to the vet. In between the tortured meows that followed every curve on the windy road down to Yssingeaux, the nearest town, we were all of a sudden struck by the transformation of color that has taken hold of our natural surroundings. The slightly stale green from the end of summer gave way to yellow, orange, and red patches interspersed in the thick foliage surrounding us on our descent.

Autumn in Auvergne | Infinite belly

Cuiller en bois horizontal | Infinite belly

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

“That’s it,” I told Adélaïde when it hit me, “we’ve made it through a whole cycle”, with fall now in plain sight, we’ve seen and lived every season here in Auvergne.

We moved in on a true winter day, thick snowflakes falling on the windshield of our rented truck as we approached our final destination, Verne. The GPS must have had a sense of humor as it directed us on the last leg of our journey through the most challenging course under those conditions. It also turned out to be the more scenic option. Compared to the rather bare highway, here we were inching up tiny snow-covered villas of red brick, and gray stone, smokestacks and steep slopes. As soon as we arrived we emptied the truck with the help of friends and family — which turned out to be much faster than filling it in Paris earlier that day — and from then on we were living in a house, (for me, the first time in my life) a real house with a garden in the back and a view of the mountains up front.

Adelaide on a wild path | Infinite belly

Raw tomatoes & vintage cloth | Infinite belly

Frise | Infinite belly

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

No vestiges of the previous seasons are left now, except for the memories of long meals in the garden and bringing our badminton rackets and yoga mats back inside at the end of the day. The Rabeyrin’s are now busy stocking up on firewood, the vegetable patches have almost been denuded of their nutritious garment and the earth left neat and bare. We’ve gone back one hour and night falls earlier, when we retreat indoors to our sofa, to books and to movies, lots of tea, and open a Touraine red wine we’ve been saving up. Sometimes we confuse the sound of rain with the rustling of leaves outside. Above all, we talk animatedly about food and recipes we want to try, the markets we have yet to visit, and places to see in the area. We slow down, and time gallantly obliges.

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

The road to Ardèche - Infinite belly

In Paris, time was punctuated most distinctly by the fever of human events. Instead of moving towards the future, it felt like the future was coming towards us, announced in the form of changing shop window displays for new seasons, screens showing 3D movie trailers in the metro (think “Back to the Future II” when Marty McFly travels to 2015), the next big art show, apps and gadgets, fashion weeks, winter sales, summer sales, the progress of cranes, reconstruction of Les Halles in the city-center, the daily torrent of news… Amid this cacophony, nature was always there, but most of the time it slipped quietly in the background and decorated the quotidian.

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly
Living here feels like stepping outside of that time and that frame of mind. Most human things are static, and the bit of construction in town is a faraway affair that only concerns us when we have to pass thereabouts on occasional errands. It is more common to see cows — corpulent, grass-chewing, slow-moving, happy cows — than people. The farmhouses that were here over one hundred years ago have barely changed. The herculean effort to source, shape, and erect these from stone paid off long past the lifetimes of those who conceived of these projects. It feels like les anciens were not only building for themselves, but also for future generations. The Indian saying puts it well: we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

Ornement seul | Infinite belly

Nature, on the other hand, is constantly transforming itself and stimulating all of our senses. So much so that my daily obsession became cooking and taking long walks in the forest, things I had never previously imagined I would do with such passion.

Beetroots | Infinite belly

Ferns | Infinite belly

Louche vertical | Infinite belly

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

Ruby beet soup, goat cheese foam, toasted hazelnuts
& wild arugula | Serves 6


Continue reading “There will be beets”

The forager’s harvest, Part II — porcini

RECIPES:   PORCINI, GARLIC & PARSLEY CREAMY LINGUINI   |   PORCINI & WALNUT TURNOVERS   |   PORCINI PRESERVED IN OLIVE OIL, HERBS, GARLIC & HAZELNUTS

A few days after our chanterelle outing, Adélaïde and I came back to that spot armed with a handy mushroom guide, a pocketbook filled with information on identifying mushrooms, from the gourmet to the lethal. To our delight we found Bordeaux ceps — also known as porcini, one of the most sought-out mushrooms at this time of the year.

Porcini mushrooms jars | Infinite belly

Porcini mushroom creamy linguini | Infinite belly

Walking around the forest, we traversed a variety of micro-climates, ranging from drier areas with tall trees, pine cones and brown leaves, to luscious mossy patches covering the ground like a soft vegetal carpet. We moved towards a clearing after spotting a few red dots in the distance, a cluster of fly agaric mushrooms. Porcini tend to sprout close to them, according to Simon, a friend who runs a restaurant nearby.

Adelaide among ferns | Infinite belly

Poisonous fly agaric mushroom | Infinite belly

Poisonous fly agaric mushroom | Infinite belly

Those really are the fairy tale poisonous mushrooms. But they offer great clues as to where the porcini may be hiding. Our strategy now consists of roaming the forest looking for these red colonies, which is not too difficult given their bright color, and then combing that area in search of the tricky porcini. As we approached the clearing, scanning the earth, inch by inch, gunshots thudded in the distance, followed by barking. It’s hunting season as well, and while we stay far from them, I always wear a red beanie and other bright clothes to avoid getting shot while innocently picking mushrooms — I’ll admit this is more of a dark fantasy of mine (that always makes Adélaïde laugh) rather than an actual risk.

Porcini mushroom preserved in olive oil jars | Infinite belly

The cèpes de Bordeaux (ceps or penny buns in English, porcini in Italian) are really some of the tastiest mushrooms out there, with a robust consistency that also makes them an excellent meat substitute. They are characterized by their oversized white stalk that needs to be carefully dug out of the earth in order to be kept whole. Although they can be quite large, they are difficult to find since their brown caps are often burrowed under fallen branches and sticks or deep under the moss. Flipping through our little guide’s pages, we stumbled upon their evil cousins: the bolet de Satan, also known as cèpe du diable or bolet diabolique. No translation needed.

Porcini mushroom foraging | Infinite belly

Once a porcini is spotted, I get a particular pleasure in picking it out; it’s like being on some kind of hunter-gatherer forest treasure hunt, or like being Mario after finding the right green tube that gives the mushroom and a little victory song plays in my head as I pluck it from the ground. Although I can’t say we are experts, our method has worked pretty well so far and we come home each time with little families of porcini in our basket.

Foraged porcini mushrooms | Infinite belly

Frozen yellow ferns | Infinite belly

As we headed back to the car, I froze when I saw a couple of figures in the distance gliding through the woods. I started looking for signs as to what their forest activity might be, only to be relieved when seeing straw baskets, batons, and noses pointed to the ground. It turned out to be a retired couple, Jacques and Louise, who live in Lyon but come here every year to pick mushrooms and enjoy the outdoors. Louise told us that her family actually comes from a nearby village, Lapte. It’s a sleepy town with winding roads that climb a hill, covered in stone houses, alleyways, and steep steps. A church sits at the center of the village, overlooking the pastures and volcanoes all around. It turns out Louise’s great-great-grandfather built the church’s bell tower! After comparing our baskets, we parted, and Jacques told us they were happy to have met des gens du coin. And how nice that was, to be called “locals”.

Porcini mushroom turnovers, hand pies | Infinite belly

Spider web in the forest | Infinite belly

Foraged porcini mushrooms | Infinite belly

Soon we had more porcini than we could consume, so we decided to preserve some of them in jars with olive oil. We are lucky to get tons of fresh olive oil from a Portuguese friend, Manuel. He moved to France decades ago but part of his family stayed in Portugal and he goes back to visit once in a while. He recently told me about the olive picking season in his hometown that just came to a close, where his family owns many olive trees. This ancient practice had been relatively neglected in recent decades after a rural exodus, and sadly many trees have been burnt by local vandalism. But a recent interest has brought people back to the land, at least seasonally, for olive picking and olive oil-making. Who knows, maybe we’ll go next year?

Porcini mushroom preserved in olive oil jars | Infinite belly

With the precious mushrooms cleaned and cut in small pieces and soaked in olive oil, all that was left to do was to pick a couple more ingredients to spice things up, and Adélaïde had some great ideas: raw garlic, roasted hazelnuts, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. They have been sitting here by the kitchen counter for a few days now and I must say this is testing my self-control. Meanwhile, with the rest of the fresh porcini we made a couple of simple, hearty dishes — pasta & turnovers — that feel and taste right for this time of the year, as the weather gets suddenly quite cold and we feel more like being inside taking photos of food and doing baking experiments.

Porcini mushroom creamy linguini with minestrone soup | Infinite belly

Porcini mushrooms turnovers, hand pies | Infinite belly

Cuiller en bois - Infinite belly

Porcini mushroom creamy linguini | Infinite belly


Porcini, garlic & parsley creamy linguini | Serves 2


Continue reading “The forager’s harvest, Part II — porcini”

The forager’s harvest, Part I — chanterelles

RECIPES:   CHANTERELLE TARTINES WITH POACHED EGG, CELERIAC CREAM, BORAGE FLOWERS & YARROW LEAVES   |   PINK PEAR CARDAMOM MUFFINS & CHANTERELLE SALTED CARAMEL

Fall harvest squash and girolles - Infinite bellyInfinite belly - poached egg girolles toast 2Infinite belly - pear muffins with girolles caramel 2

Ladies and gentlemen, here it is, the much awaited season I’ve been dreaming about, a moment I’ve been anticipating ever since we moved here… mushroom time! And a full mushroom menu to celebrate. Finally, I can go out into the woods and just get my hands full of chanterelles and ceps! The forest has completely transformed for autumn. Mushrooms of all shapes and sizes now punctuate the landscape with color: red amanites, white coulemelles, yellow girolles, bits of orange moss, brown cèpes, purple amethysts. You feel like Alice in Wonderland, completely overwhelmed by these new objects populating the woods.

Infinite belly - beautiful forest

Infinite belly - mushrooms in the forest

Infinite belly - beautiful forest 2

Beyond being lost, we were more precisely at a loss. Luckily, we were accompanied by our friend André Chachá (his actual name, which coincidentally means “Cat-cat” in French) a Brazilian cook who was working under Chef Régis Marcon in a 3-star Michelin restaurant not far from here in Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid (‘Saint-Beanie-the-Cold”) and who knows a thing or two about mushrooms, at least when it comes to cooking them.

Infinite belly - Chef André ChacháChef André Chachá

As novice mycologists, we opted for the strategy of picking as many types of mushrooms as possible and identifying them later. Showing up at the pharmacy with a basket of colorful forest finds, we were disappointed to discover that almost none of them were edible, and the few that wouldn’t kill you were not gastronomically interesting. Adding insult to injury, the pharmacist explained that even if we had found good ones we would not have been able to eat them since we mixed them all together in the same basket with the other types, and worse, since we in part used plastic bags to collect them… and plastic makes mushrooms ferment. After so much anticipation, we were devastated. Maybe the secret to mushroom success was inaccessible to us newbies.

Infinite belly - mushrooms in the forest 3

Infinite belly - mushrooms in the forest 2

Infinite belly - mushroom in the forest 4

It was Chachá who saved the day. Going back to Saint-Bonnet, we tried a new spot, hoping for better luck this time. Climbing a steep hill to reach the promised land we stood there breathless, but to our dismay this spot looked even worse than the last one — there were less mushrooms in both quantity and variety. To top it off, on our way back down, it started raining. We were scattered in three different corners of the woods when I suggested we should just call it off and go home. As we reluctantly headed down, I saw Chachá stooped over some bright yellow mushrooms. “I think they’re chanterelles! he exclaimed in cheerful Portuguese. Once we started finding them, we just had to follow the path that naturally connected their growth clumps. It got to a point where we ran out of containers and had to use our sweaters to grab more. We ended up getting over 1 kg of chanterelles, which for a small mushroom is quite a lot!

Girolles mushroom basket - Infinite belly

Although the Marcon restaurant (with the cheapest menu starting at 360 euros per person) is off-limits for us at this point, we were lucky enough to have one of their cooks prepare a meal with us at home! And what a treat that was, coming back inside on a chilly afternoon, spending hours making celeriac cream, squash, and toasts to accompany the wild mushrooms we had just foraged. In the end we had so much that we even used them for dessert! Chef Chachá showed us something we had scarcely fathomed before: caramel aux chanterelles.

Infinite belly - pear muffins with girolles caramel 4

Couverts trois vertical

Infinite belly - poached egg girolles toast 4


Chanterelle tartines with poached egg, celeriac cream,
borage flower & yarrow leaves | Serves 2


Continue reading “The forager’s harvest, Part I — chanterelles”