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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Encounters

Sometimes things fall into place, just so.

I have been given a recipe for Greek Easter bread Tsourakis from a Greek lady living on the other side of the earth. Just so. A Greek lady who by normal standards is a complete stranger to me. Luckily I’ve got my own. Where she lives, tomatoes are now dangling from the branches like overfed languid birds. And the figs are ripening, oozing tiny golden bubbles of sugary juice down their deep purple skins. It is a family recipe. Family recipes are a peculiar thing, they are always much more alive than the mere list of ingredients they pretend to be. She gave it to me because a few weeks ago I have baked tresses bread for my homesick Monsieur who was lost in January dreariness bleak wind and cold and that bread looked familiar to her.

This Greek Easter bread Tsourakis is made with a peculiar mediterranean spice, rather uncommon here in rural France. Soft hearts of wild cherry seeds, dried, grounded. Mahlepi it is called. The smell of Easter in Greece, she says. I wonder what it tastes like. And because I’m a somewhat complicated person, it wouldn’t do to get it from just anywhere. It wouldn’t taste as it ought, I’m sure.

The other day the electrician brought me a tiny bottle of fig liqueur. Homemade, because, he said, he couldn’t eat them all up, the figs in his garden. Just so. The figs and the leaves and the sun. While figs taste of wild honey and sweet cream, the leaves add a rounded freshness, warm and balmy. It’s a sirupy golden soup, tasting of late summer and molten sugar right before the point it’s burnt. I made it into a teeming February cocktail, one you would drink after midnight, when the fire is slowly dying and the outside chill sneaks through the walls into your house. Fig liqueur, yellow ratafia. Almond milk, egg white. A dash of muscat, I will try with Mahlepi once it will have found the way to my kitchen. And a hint of bliss in Monsieur’s half smile.

My mother went to Cairo in Egypt to escape the iron grasp of our winter. To return to Europe in spring. A bit Demeter and Persephone except that she will be the one to bring back softer air. And Mahlepi. She will get it from the market in tawabel street, where everyone sneezes except the merchants, they must have gotten used to the spice dusted air. Where they sell powder as blue as the sky at nightfall. Colours, everywhere. An old man who looks like Hemingway but with grey eyes and a nasty smile, I wonder whether he is still there.

My mother will bring the Mahlepi in spring so that I can make Greek bread for Easter based on a recipe of a Greek lady and her mother living on the other side of earth. And a pinch on a midnight fig cocktail, smelling of warm cobblestones and stolen fruit and late summer in Greece. Sometimes things fall into place, just so.

Midnight philosykos cocktail:

  • 25ml of fig liqueur
  • 50ml white ratafia
  • 25 ml of almond milk
  • 1 whipped up egg white
  • Ice
  • Mahlepi or muscat

Dry shake all ingredients, add ice and shake again. Carefully pour into a nice glass through a strainer. Add a dash of Mahlepi, if you have some. Or muscat. Relish.