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”

One thousand autumn leaves

RECIPE:   LAVENDER-INFUSED MOUSSELINE CUSTARD MILLEFEUILLES

Lavender-infused mousseline custard millefeuille - Infinite belly

I feel conflicted when thinking about jazz today, its simultaneous outdatedness and relevance, how little it resembles music that is being made now, yet how much it has influenced music in less obvious ways. Going to a dusty jazz club feels like taking a trip on a time machine, going back to a (recent) point in history when sounds still needed to be produced by instruments shaped in various ways, with hammers, strings, and pipes. People bobbing their heads to a solo and the occasional bursts of enthusiasm coming out from the audience at an unexpected turn of the melody. Jazz is stuck somewhere in between classical and popular music: it’s turned into “sit-down” music, for the brain more than for the body; but it’s retained something informal since it’s still played often in small clubs, and you can always discretely move to the beat in your seat. Not austere like Bach and not vulgarly provocative like Miley Cyrus. Music of freedom, yet too often constrained by those seeking to define a jazz “genre”. In between and therefore strange, hard to categorize, to know its place.

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I grew up playing music with my brother, him on the guitar and myself on the upright piano. Home was a half-hour of stepping on dry leaves, coming back from school on an indian summer day. We would arrive famished and head straight to the pantry to grab the chips and hummus that were always kept in stock. Sometimes a couple of friends would come back with us, the sax and trumpet players in our band. Our song of choice to warm up, jam out, and conclude was Autumn Leaves. In fact, we would play Autumn Leaves ad nauseum:

These autumn leaves,
drift by my window,
these autumn leaves of red and gold…

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This is a tune I can play with the most intimacy, with those symmetrical sets of chords descending in parallel horizontal lines, musically imitating the movement of the gently falling, swaying leaves. It got to a point where the chord shapes were molded into my finger muscles and I could go through the changes without even thinking. In the end, that’s the key to improvisation. You need such familiarity with the tune, every chord, note, and rhythm, that it becomes an extension of your mind and body. Your melody sings as it meanders inside and outside of the given tonality, sometimes sounding completely in line with the harmony, other times taking surprising detours that joke with your ear.

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The millefeuille, which means “thousand-leaves” in French, has been a French pastry classic for centuries. The feuilleté’s unique texture requires the repetition of a particular way of folding, a movement that creates up to 729 pairs of layers! It takes practice, like everything that is worth doing well, but the result is extraordinary. And it’s a technique that is used in many other classic French pastries including the much coveted viennoiseries: croissants, pain au chocolats, chaussons…

Ade & andré

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Ornement trois


Lavender-infused mousseline custard millefeuilles | Serves 6-8


Continue reading “One thousand autumn leaves”

Our green-thumbed neighbors

RECIPE:   BUTTERNUT SQUASH & PECORINO RISOTTO WITH CRISPY BACON

Butternut squash risotto, pecorino & crispy bacon | Infinite belly

infinite belly - bouchon

Coming to Auvergne for the first time was an otherworldly experience; the moment we passed the Bienvenue en Auvergne sign on the highway I sensed a change in the scenery: a higher altitude, snowy villages hugging the hillsides and riverbeds below as we crossed on suspension bridges, no more factories and advertisements that were so common around the periphery of Lyon. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the balcony of our hotel room when we first came for Adélaïde’s interview, the freshest air in the night sky making us shiver, gazing at the stars and the chaotic shapes of volcanoes around us. Coming was a crazy but plucky move, as life here was largely unknown to us, mainly imagined. Who would we meet? Would we be welcomed as newcomers in a community or would we be seen as strangers?

Vegetable patch & stone house in Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Verne, where we live, is really a blip in the universe. Even in the region it is barely known. When you take the road connecting Yssingeaux and Montfaucon (the two major towns close to our house), you pass by various lieu-dits (literally “said-places”, hamlets without street names) and villages like La Chapelette, Les Planchettes, Grazac, Lalèche, Treyches, Raucoules, etc… eventually you reach a sign marked “VERNE”, but if you don’t take a moment to slow down and look around, you may not even notice its existence. It is a typical little hamlet like so many others: a few stone houses, a monument honoring the veterans of the World Wars, signs for fresh goat cheese, scarecrows, chickens, and fields dotted with cows. Let’s just suppose that, feeling tired from a long drive, the afternoon sunlight inviting you to rest, you decide to stop and take a stroll. You would first notice the outsized church, too large to make sense today for such a small place, witness to a time of greater religious fervor. Exploring the small roads going into the fields you would see a variety of houses, some remarkable in their old stone, others not so much if they have been remodeled and “modernized” to fit contemporary tastes. A cat might be sitting in the middle of a field, quietly observing you. Or a puppy from a near-by farm may come by with her tongue out, eager to play with newcomers. To be sure, you will consistently see vast, flourishing vegetable patches. Neat little rows methodically lined up one after another, divided into sections of lettuce, chards, spinach, carrots, beetroots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and the list goes on…

Neighbor's vegetable patch in Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Neighbor's vegetable patch in Auvergne, France | Infinite bellyOur home in Verne, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

At first we were somewhat shy about approaching our Auvergnat neighbors; being the foreigner with the Parisian wife living next door, I was keenly aware of the exotic presence we must make in the hamlet of Verne. We met a few of them thanks to our cats, who refused to be confined to the space of our garden. Climbing the wall to hop on the other side, Gaston and Frida acted as our feline ambassadors in the neighborhood. When we would come searching for them, the conversation would typically go like, “So you’re the owners of the chubby striped kitten and the three-pawed three-colored cat?” “Yes… we hope they haven’t been bothering you!” “Oh not at all, plus they keep the mice away from my orchard!” This began our first contacts, but the key to this cultural exchange came from Adélaïde’s pâtisseries.

Our cat Gaston in the garden | Infinite belly

Verne neighbor | Infinite bellyThere was no way we could keep up with the sheer amount of pastry that was being brought home every week: royal and black forest cakes, lemon tarts, passion-fruit chocolates, raspberry charlottes, and tartes Bourdaloue to name a few… so in order to avoid wasting and throwing perfectly delicious food away or risking obesity-in-Verne, we started giving cakes to our neighbors. It turns out that giving your neighbors éclairs, macarons, and Paris-Brest is a great way to make friends. Trading sugar for vegetables, it’s like living an ethnologist’s gift economy dream. By spring we were coming over for coffee or crème de cassis, being shown around their vast orchards, and getting planting advice: “If you plant your lettuce on May 4th, the night of the new moon, they’ll grow really fast”,  our landlord, Monsieur Rabeyrin, raises both hands accompanied by the typical French onomatopoeic et HOP!, the rising pitch of his voice indicating the sudden sprouting of a new plant. And “make sure to use wood chips instead of plastic to cover your strawberries during winter, it’s more organic”. Another neighbor, Monsieur Robert, told us about the lettuce seeds he’s been cultivating his entire life — unlike most of those currently available on the market, which cannot regenerate year after year. They’re his seeds, and they’re over 70 years old, as he puts it. His father first started germinating them in 1944, protecting himself and his family from the war’s food shortages. And today, M. Robert’s children are growing them too. Lettuce is a family affair around here.

Our cat Frida & fall harvest chanterelles & squash | Infinite belly

Chopped butternut squash | Infinite belly

Parboiled butternut squash | Infinite belly

We started our own modest patch, but soon we were receiving baskets of fresh veggies from our neighbors every week in exchange for the “pastry fix”. In the late spring, we received potatoes, carrots, lettuce, green beans. Then summer came with juicy red tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, fragrant wild arugula, and swiss chard (which I had never tried before, but it’s quite similar to kale). Now that fall is here we have a new variety of vegetables to work with: pumpkins, squash & butternut of course, but also lots of cauliflower, beetroots, and celery. With all these available on our kitchen table, we always have great options when deciding what to make for lunch. We can’t really go wrong whether we choose to peel and slice a few ripe tomatoes and throw them in the pan to make sauce, or parboil some green beans to accompany a steak. This week we decided to make butternut squash & pecorino risotto, perfumed with fresh-cut rosemary from the garden and crispy bacon.

Butternut squash risotto, pecorino & crispy bacon | Infinite bellyVerne garden flowers | Infinite belly

Chaudron


Fall butternut squash & pecorino risotto with crispy bacon
risotto alla zucca | Serves 4


Continue reading “Our green-thumbed neighbors”