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”