L’Art de Bien Manger Workshops 2019

When we bought our house in this lost corner of France a few years ago, we never imagined that it would develop such a firm hold on us. We thought it was us making all the decisions, but fact is, as we learned over the years, that this house is rather peculiar. I’d call it a haunted house if this term were not so negatively perceived. I therefore rather like to think of it as a ship, a cosy neat little ship, peaceful, with everything you need for the good life, out there in the vast ocean. A very beautiful battered old ship with a long history. We are comfortably off, because apparently, neither of us is its captain, neither of us is in charge. It’s rather that this ship brings us to places so new we hadn’t ever dreamed they existed. For we are lucky, we have a benevolent and experienced captain. Only thing left to us is to make sure we appreciate this ship’s legacy, harbour it, mend it, if needed. And, of course, add to it. This is the best part, I think. And best things are best shared. This is what we intend to be doing even more in the coming year, it is the new shores that this ship is steering us towards. We already see them, faintly chiseled against the glowing horizon, when we climb the ship’s mast. In plain language, what we intend to do, is probably called culinary workshops, or food workshops. Or a cooking atelier. This is all very well, but we have it in our minds to genuinely share our life on this ship. L’Art de Bien Manger, which is not just cooking but after all the spirit that goes along with it. L’Art de Bien Manger with good people for a few days. Of course there will be cooking, lots of it, and wine, and champagne. French dishes and dishes from where we come from and new breeds. Porcelain, crystal glasses and silver. Pique-niques, delicacies cooked under the stars in summer. Bonfires, fairy lights in the trees. A midnight swim in the river for those who really dare (I wouldn’t, neither would Monsieur, because of the thing with the gleaming eyes). But most of all, there will be stories, intervals of our lives shared, a touch of the soul. That’s the Art. 

We start small, with three dates for 2019, three three days workshops:

The early summer workshop (28 – 30 June 2019)

I love the month of June. When the heat is soft and embracing and won’t scourge you yet. The water still fresh and green. The month of Matisse, Renoir, Redon. There will be a pique-nique, and redcurrant with champagne. Strawhats and ribbons. A little wine tasting and brocante. Dinners on a large table, the windows wide open to let in the balmy summer evening. A night walk through the fields. 

The summer workshop (9 – 11 August 2019)

The time of the stars falling from the indigo sky, the fields slowly turning into gold. Of fiery sunsets and nights in shirtsleeves. We will go upriver towards the wild woods and breathe the clean fresh air. Set up our table on the lawn, make a bonfire with sparks matching the falling stars. Cook under the sky, snake bread and bouillabaisse, rusticity and fine china. A feast to please Titania. Wine tasting and brocante, for these are a must. Refresh ourselves with a swim in the river, or row under the canopy of the luxuriant trees. 

The harvest moon workshop (18 – 20 October 2019)

Golden days and fresh nights, elderberry wine with your back against the old warm wall of our house, watching the sun sink slowly into the river. Strolls through harvested fields, hunting for fresh rose champignons. Gather basketfuls of fruit and do some proper moonshining. Champagne cocktails with hawthorn syrup. Transform nature’s bounty and abundance into the finest treats. Comfortably sit in front of the fireplace, with a glass of ruby red burgundy while the trees whip up a storm outside, listen to the stories, tell yours. 

Brief outline: 

The workshops will usually begin around 11am in the morning. We will start with cooking a light lunch together and slowly move into dinner preparations in the afternoon on day one and day two. Dinner will be at least a five course menu, for after all, we are in France. On the third day, we will prepare another light lunch together and round off the workshop with coffee and mignardises in the afternoon. Group size is limited to six persons, to keep it neat and private. 

Cost: 

The cost of participation is EUR 800.- per person. It includes the dinners, lunches, plenty of wine and all that goes along with. It does not include any fares and accommodation. There are very nice B&Bs in the neighbourhood and we are more than happy to direct you to the one that suits you. 

Location: 

The workshops will be held at our private house in the upper north of Franche Comté, halfway between Paris and Zurich, or Dijon and Nancy. It is advisable to come by car. Upon your request we are happy to organise a driver who will get you at your own expense from the nearest airport or train station.  

Please contact us at lespoissonchats@gmx.ch for further information. 

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Tsoureki, Oversized. And Other Traditions.

Where shall I start. I made that Greek Easter bread Tsoureki based on the recipe given to me by the Greek lady living on the other side of the earth, her name is Georgia, a name that resonates, and then I have prepared this little Easter tale for you.

I’ll give you the tale first. It’s a true one, mind. And this is how it goes: 

When I was six I was a firm believer in the Easter Rabbit. Or perhaps less a believer, than a little person being reassured really that there’s things that exist in spite of us. Because as a matter of fact, once a year in spring, the Easter Rabbit would fill the nest I had prepared the other night in the hedge with nice things (such as chocolates and eggs. And golden ear studs in the shape of mice, occasionally.) Unlike Saint Nicholas, the Easter Rabbit wouldn’t ask for something in return, which raised it a tiny notch higher in my esteem. A generous chap after all, having naturally grasped the secret of giving which is to expect nothing in return (one of life’s possibly hardest lessons). 

And then my cousin almost screwed it. He was a believer in the proper sense, not one to take things for granted. On the day before Good Sunday he came trotting up with a very concerned face. In fact, he said, he believed it was all made up, the Easter Rabbit, and the eggs and stuff. He said he had it from a reliable source, having overheard a conversation between grown ups. Said they were discussing who would hide the eggs the next day and so on. I was completely, inextricably shaken. Utter disaster. Albeit, when I thought of it after lunch, it occurred to me that grown ups probably weren’t as reliable a source as he believed. They were grown ups all right, apt at lying like a rug and swallowing their own nonsense with ease. Sure they knew my cousin was hiding on the oven. Everybody knew he hid on the oven all the time. Only him as thought no one knew. Very likely, they wickedly intended to steal the Easter Rabbit’s thunder. Which wouldn’t come as a surprise to me. 

In any event, my cousin suggested to gather proofs. Very clever fellow cunningly intended to tie a piece of fine thread around the branches of the hedge where we had decorated our nests. Just about at knee height. So that any competent Easter Rabbit would pass below it (with ears cocked up, I asked, yes he said), while the grown ups would tear would they come near. But, I ventured, what if this is a very tall Easter Rabbit. And I thought of the heavy load it carried what with all us children and that in fact it was very unlikely that it was even remotely close to normal rabbit size. He pondered over this for a long while. After all it made sense. We still tied the thread around the hedge. And I think it was torn the next day. And there was chocolate and eggs in our nests and a most beautiful silver ring in mine, with an enamelled little red beetle on top. Ha! There you have it, I cried. I dearly wanted this ring and never told anybody I liked it except I wrote it on a piece of paper and put it out on the window sill for the Easter Rabbit to fetch and see to whether he could get it for me. Q.e.d. my friend. You go on believing or not it was the Easter Rabbit, but I know now. Because there’s things that exist in spite of us. 

The Tsoureki was baking in the oven while I wrote these lines. Already I had forgotten to buy the yeast that day. Thank God the boulangère, the baker woman, who passes with her shop-on-wheels every two days to deliver the most savoury croissants to our door, would sell me a block. I squeezed and mixed and folded alright, following that marvellous recipe to the letter. Except for the baking paper to be placed on top (woe is me, my Tsoureki got, well, rather dark). And let the dough rest. One hour, two hours, two hours and a half and nothing. The beast wouldn’t stir. Rising to twice the size, I say, well it obviously wasn’t intending to. Woe is me! In order to maintain at least a hint at generosity alive, I made one tress instead of two as instructed. With a most wounded expression and my brows knitted. And then this happened: The Tsoureki exploded in the oven. Boum. Thrice the size, I tell you. At least. Woe is me again. An impossibly oversized massive Easter Bread. Shameless. And incredibly tasty. I may need to practice it’s looks but that taste, well, the Greeks definitely know where it’s at.

We ate it (and the lucky neighbours and passersby). Topped with crème fraîche and quince jelly I had made last autumn. With a glass of port to keep the brisk April wind at bay. Here: