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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About that Chocolate Tarte

About that Chocolate Tarte, façon Poissonchat. What gets into it and how and when. I’ve done it countless times, in countless variations. The last tweak I gave it is the one with the damsons or plums. Initially to keep it moist. But then our village vet fell heads over ears for my plum tarte, so I thought it would be worthwhile to repeat the experiment. Damsons dried in their juice, glistening sirupy black toads. I usually dry them in the oven of our wood fired stove. Slowly, at a low temperature, and for a long time. With their hearts left inside. Sometimes I put them in brandy or armagnac to soak. Sometimes not. And then into that tarte. How does it work, that tarte? Well, here is what gets into it, very simple: 

4-6 eggs (depending on their size. I get mine from my neighbour who has hens who in all seriousness lay giant eggs. I once asked him whether he’s sure that he didn’t mistake his hens for geese.) 

170g of sugar (my baking sugar has a faint perfume of vanilla, as I put the used stems into the sugar pot. You may as well add a little grated vanilla to the sugar but do try that continuous vanilla sugar production, it reduces waste and tastes delicious.)

200g of butter (sweet butter!)

200g of very dark chocolate, the darker the better (you may wish to adjust your sugar quantity based on the sweetness of the dark chocolate you choose)

A few spoonfuls of cocoa powder, the unsweetened one

Even less spoonfuls of flour

The tiniest pinch of salt (I usually use fleur de sel as it’s saltiness is tender, like the balmy air of the sea)

A sip of cointreau or brandy or armagnac (which would be the portion you’d serve your grandfather after dinner. Continental European, not Mexican, perhaps.)

8-10 splendid dried damsons. Heart in or out, depending on your eaters capacity to pay attention to your instructions not to bite on that stone (or the temper of their teeth). 

Another couple spoonfuls of cocoa powder, for the final tweak

Now that is all very well, but how is it getting into the pot? Well, if I were you, I’d start with melting that dangerously dark chocolat . Melt it in the bain marie, which is in a pot which is in a pot of water. At a very low temperature, the water should not boil but steam graciously. Put the butter with the chocolate to melt, stir from time to time, benignly. 

Take your time. Never ever rush. Be friendly and a little mischievous and have a light heart that leaps with glee when you see the dark oily chocolate melt into the golden yellow butter. You may as well do a little fortune telling now. Or Rorschach test. Smell. While the chocolate butter amalgamation advances, start separating the yolks from the egg whites. Carefully slitting the white thread that holds the yolk to the egg white. Then whip the yolks with 3/4 of the sugar. Whip and whip and whip until it is a creamy white. Or let your kitchen robot do it (which is what I do, there is, after all, glory in progress). 

Depending on your oven, perhaps this is the time to start heating it up (mine is very slow, you know). Temperature 7-8 (corresponds to 210°-240°C) and fan. Butter the baking mould, butter it well and powder it with flour. I usually take a 25cm spring clip tin but you may also take a smaller, higher one. That would be a cake then instead of a tarte, works well as well. 

And then my favourite part: slowly stir the chocolate butter into the white egg yolks. This I do myself, pot in one hand and wooden ladle in the other. Always stir in the same direction. Look at that colour, the lustruous shiny mass. If you haven’t already, please get yourself a nice little spoon and try. Taste, watch it rolling down your spoon. Relish. If you have seen something spooky in that pot earlier, rest assured that now everything will be alright. 

I’m sure your kitchen robot meanwhile would be happy to whip up the rest of the sugar with the egg whites. And that tiny pinch of fleur de sel. Whip it white until the mass could be used to be towered up on your head, you know, like poor late Marie Antoinette’s hair. With sugar flowers sticking out of it. Brilliant. 

Pour that sip of cointreau or brandy or armagnac into the black mass. It will give the dough a lift, put it into excellent spirits. Stir. Then slowly add the spoonfuls. Soup spoons, generous ones. I think I’ve given it three of the white flour and six of the black cocoa. In fact, the mass should have the texture of, well, of fresh mortar before you trow it at the wall perhaps. Or of sand the moment when waves recede to the sea, gurgling and bobbling. Heavy and sloggish but moist through and through. You might want to try again now, just in case. 

Check that oven. As soon as the temperature is up: 

Slowly stir that Marie Antoinette egg whites into this mass. I say really slowly. Carefully. Them white bubbles are very skittish. They hate coarseness, like to be caressed at any rate. No worry if your mass looks a little marbré, like marble. It will amalgamate later in the oven. Pour into the baking mould, put the damsons in, push them a little into the dough, gently. And quick into the oven, don’t waste the heat. 

Clean the pot, I do this with a rubber spoon to ensure I get at all the residue. About this time usually, when the bitter sweet chocolate perfume is filling the kitchen, I start thinking about roquefort. Or hammock. After 7 minutes, take away the fan and bake for another 13 to 15 mins. Try whether it is done by sticking a knitting needle into the tin. If the dough sticks, it needs another couple of minutes. If it gets out greasy but tidy, the tarte is cuite, cooked. I usually leave it in the open oven for a while, given that the short time of baking leaves its heart still pulpy and soft. If you take it out too quickly, you risk a volcano crater in your tarte. Let it cool down gently, so that it may gain firmness. 

Taking it out of the mould is most probably the most difficult thing about that tarte. Matters a lot when you do it. Because it should be cooled enough to get out easily but warm enough still to make the cocoa powder snow storm topping stay without taking grease. I usually remove the rim first. Then put the tarte on the cooling grid, upside down. Trying, from time to time, whether the bottom is coming off alright. 

Put it into a nice plate and then the messy, exuberant bit, letting the black cocoa snow over the tarte. Until it looks like sumptuous velvet. Perhaps put two or three damsons in the middle. Put it in a dry and cool place, for it should be eaten cold. 

Serve with lavender tea or port. 

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The Putru

For sure, you must have heard of the Putru. It is about the size of a weasel but it has only two, infinitely long and shapely legs while feathered wings replace the forelegs, also its tail, which is rather lengthy in relation to its tiny body, is feathered. One might mistake it for an oversized jumping mouse, considering the small rodent like head and the disproportionally large ears or, when it roams the gardens anxiously flapping its wings, using the tail to keep its balance, for a small pheasant.

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Brocante, j’adore!

Brocante, j’adore!, once said an otherwise very tongue-tied Englishman living in France when asked where les Poissonchats could go treasure hunting, and after days of communication going down pretty much to good morning and good night, we had a very lengthy and very animated and very funny conversation around all stuff old and used and pretty. And he couldn’t be more right, of course, Brocante, j’adore.Read More »

Snipping and Sewing

Naked arms in the gentle breeze, grass tickling your feet, plunging into early summer, an athmosphere for cool silks, flowing gowns and flower crowns in your hair. This calls for “just a little snipping, then a little sewing, and it’ll all be good as gold”, as the norn said in Neil Gaiman’s story “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”, one of Madame’s favourite contemporary novels. Evidently, even the most shattered little personal universe can be fixed with snipping and sewing, if properly done, of course.

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