Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On the menu today...

The other day, after a refreshing stroll in the green through Trinity Bellwoods Park, we stopped by at Balfour Books on College Street. As soon as I set foot in the shop, I noticed the two new cookbooks on French cuisine that were on display in the window... I asked for both and plunged head first into their heart with surgical care. They were a bit too polished or fancy, I guess - I eventually discarded them. Even if they both whetted my appetite with a colourful range of new recipes or good old classics from the south-west of France in particular, I discarded them because I needed something louder, something bigger, something that would sound that great pandemonium of ruffling saucepans and steaming pots...

This is not my kitchen but I love the bric-à-brac of saucepans in this picture...

Yes, it took me some time to make up my mind and discard the two books that had first caught my attention, but I did it- for the better, as I found two jewels: a 1963 American cookbook, the Gourmet's Menu Cookbook (edited by Gourmet, Inc) and Bocuse's Regional French Cooking (Flammarion Editions, Paris, 1991) - both irresistible! Love at first sight.

My two trophy books at work in my kitchen...

Ah, the 1960s and their retro style! The book offers a thorough lesson on how to devise a properly planned menu. The retro elegance that unfolds before my eyes as I go through these 652 pages of oddly colored and always neatly compounded food, is quite addictive. Neato! I was surprised to even find a whole section of the book devoted to what is called 'Terrace Dinner.' Where have our good manners gone?

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to the section. Just to give you a taste of the art of terrace dinner...
'Given the proper facilities and suitable weather, it is possible to serve almost any meal outdoors. Usually, however, it is desirable to capitalize on the outdoor situation, to some degree, in the menu. This should not be taken to imply that an alfresco meal must necessarily be cooked outside, The implication is, rather, that the outdoors tends to deformalize any occasion slightly, and that some dishes seem more appropriate than others to the outdoor situation. Grilled meat or a fruit compote is more "at home" than an escalope à la crème or cherries Jubilee.'

3 Set Menus for Terrace Dinners
Menu 1
Cold Carrot and Orange Soup
Broiled Marinated Steak
Burgundy Onion Rings
Charcoal-Roasted Potatoes
Pineapple Ice Cream in Meringue Shells

Menu 2
Ham Steaks San Juan
Cheese-Stuffed Potatoes
Sliced Cucumbers with Avocado French Dressing
Skewered Caramel Apples

Menu 3
Duck Orange Salad
Crackling Bread
Raspberries Romanoff

In this 1960s Gourmet cookbook, the delicately adorned drawings (by Marilyn Miller) and photographs (by Arthur Palmer) reminded me of the visits I would pay to my aunt's when a child- her house was also typical of that style, full of the same decorative dishes, rattan armchairs and teak furniture.

In 1963, Jerrold Nathan developed a Scandinavian style range in teak. Nathan advertising campaign.

It also reminded me of Tati's films with their fantastic vision of modern interiors. Let's take, for instance, Mon Oncle, this 1958 film comedy that presents us with Monsieur Hulot's quixotic crusade against modern design and architecture or any machine processes, criticizing thus the consumer society, and yet offering amazing sets and interior decors at the same time! The film set was most entirely built from scratch by painter Jacques Lagrange.
Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati, 1958.

As for the other book of the day, I felt a real kinship with my compatriot (of course he is from Lyon...), Paul Bocuse. I've had the privilege to taste his art several times; with my family as a teenager (great education!), at the Abbaye de Collonges and, as an adult, at his compass-rose brasseries in Lyon; le Nord, le Sud, l'Est & l'Ouest- Bocuse's book offers the reader a tasty voyage through the regions and provinces of France.

For your eyes only, here below are two exclusive highlights that I selected from the menu I had planned for our engagement party, last June 21st..Click on the photo and enjoy! One is about La Pissaladière, a specialty from Nice, and the other one is about Le Plateau de Fromages. So gourmand, so French!

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