A pause before baking begins

November 26th, 2008
Winter morning in Vézeley

Winter morning in Vézeley

When Thanksgiving, then the first Sunday in Advent pop up on the calendar, mixing bowls and measuring spoons, egg cartons and raisins soaking in rum, all elbow their way onto my kitchen countertop. But before holiday baking really begins, I’m prompted to pause and look back on a tumultuous year. The list of memorable moments is long, a mix of good times at unusual and far-flung tables as well as quiet times exploring French landmarks. Early in January, we headed north to take notes on Mont St-Michel, Sacre-Coeur in Paris and Vézelay in Burgundy. Along the way, tasting Brittany’s wild oysters and Burgundy’s gooey-rich Epoisses cheese were unanticipated treats. The miles we traveled, the landscape whizzing past my train window are but a blur. Out of the haze, I clearly recall a sunny morning in Chartres, where we spent an hour with the scholar, Malcolm Miller. Since 1958, giving two daily tours, his life has been devoted to the history, symbolism and significance of this remarkable cathedral. Our tour was dense in stories as he interpreted late 12th century Gothic sculpture outside, and glowing lessons told in stained glass windows inside. To conclude, he turned to face us and said: “Do come back to tour Chartres again – I’ll be here until Judgement Day”. Moved, I took a minute to dab a moist cheek, and walked out into the winter sunlight.

Having worked on a National Geographic Travel book last year, I was pleased to work with them on another, writing eleven destinations for the recently released:

Sacred Places of a Lifetime, 500 of the World’s Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations

As one might expect, the National Geographic books team has again produced a stunning collection of images and destinations, a gift to give reassurance, an inspiring pause in uncertain times.

Next up, more on almonds, and rich soups for the holiday season ahead – paired with ‘unusual’ wines.

Mustard woes

November 22nd, 2008

The classic French condiment, Dijon mustard, is in trouble. This week when I read the news about Amora – Maille closing three of their four mustard factories in Burgundy, I thought about the French pride in their patrimoine culinaire - long-standing food traditions and history – in these uncertain economic times. But mustard – why moutarde ? When I dug into the subject, the effects of gloabalization became clear. Since the year 2000, French mustard-makers Maille and Amora have been owned by the food giant, Unilever. Production at the historic Dijon factory has been down 42% since 2002.  At Appoigny, their factory is now at only a quarter of production capacity. And in just one year, the price of mustard seeds has soared 144%. Making mustard is not such a simple job, as over 250 employees who will lose their jobs know. The prefect of Burgundy has called for a “restructuration”. Another official (anonymous) said: “it is too late”.  What about the farmers, whose fields surrounding Dijon glow with golden mustard flowers each spring? Will they replace mustard with sunflowers or colza for “alternative fuel”? The landscape will change, as will the composition of flavors on our plates: perhaps we won’t have Maille Moutarde de Dijon for our mayonnaise, salad dressings – or as a zesty touch with cold turkey.  We’ll see….on verra