Although it doesn’t quite translate, Dieu merci, c’est vendredi – or as I’m going to say in English, Thank God It’s Friday (TGIF), because it’s been quite a week. (On a related note, I was recently informed by a French friend that a 4-day weekend is not a vacation – it’s just a few days off, or a pont (bridge.) But even though I took an actual vacation, it’s been tough getting back up to speed.
Since we all live in a 24/7 society, as you likely can attest to, just because you go away doesn’t mean you can “get away from it all.” There is always something to deal with; urgent recipe questions (It’s funny when people say something food-related is “urgent” – unless there is a famine or a natural catastrophe…or another disaster of similar proportion, I’m not sure it quite qualifies as “urgent”), paperwork, sorting through pictures, and dealing with travel arrangements, including the all-important act of making sure you have a decent seat on the plane home.)
Then there is a pile up when you get back; stuff that needs to be dealt with right-away; a backlog of mail, correcting typos and grammatical errors in blog entries, accepting invitations, declining invitations, writing back to the response you’ve gotten after you’ve declined, reading and responding to the response asking if you’re available another time, figuring out why teenagers would congregate in the alcove down the street that smells like pipi, realizing that there is a near-urgent need for you to restock your butter supply, and testing some recipes that have been on your mind for your blog.
The fun of having a blog is that you get to try to share recipes that you find interesting. I try to put a mix of original recipes, recipes from recent cookbooks, a few oldies but goodies from cookbooks in my collections, and occasionally one from a cooking magazine that catches my eye. Along the way – especially this week – there have been a couple of goofs. The King Arthur Flour company always presents a hilarious round-up of their test kitchen goofs each year on April Fool’s Day. But since I can’t wait that long, I decided to share a few.
I was recently inundated with a few barquettes of fresh figs that I bought at a local flea market, where all of the vendors seemed to be from the countryside (who, as this map points out, Parisians consider paysannes, or peasants.) Call me a paysan, but I happen to like them regardless of what other’s say or think, and as I picked up a number of vintage jam jars, I also was able to trade valuable jam-making tips with some of the friendly men and women selling their wares.
One guy had three barquettes of figs and because he’s not Parisian and in a constant hurry, he had to count out each fig, one-by-one, speaking aloud about what kind of price to come up with, and how he needed to charge me per-fig. (We have a lot of fees and stuff in France, so at some point, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when there is a per-fig surcharge.) Um, okay. He slo-o-o-wly told me about the history of each fig as I stood there hyperventilating because of the all the bargains that were being snapped up around me, and my shoulder ready to fall off with my bag-full of heavy glass jam jars and the Saint James marinière (striped sweater) that was almost new and was a mere 50 cents, which I got so I can look a little more French. Although I’d have to stop shaving for three days if I really wanted to complete the look. (I also saw a hipster wearing a half-length cape the other day, and I’m not ready to go there, either.)
Scruffy-faced or not (or caped, or not), I’m never at a loss when faced with too much fruit and there’s always room for jam. Except now, when my coffers are bursting with confitures a-plenty. (And please don’t ask why I bought a dozen more jam jars: I got asked the same question when I got home.) Yet at dinner the other night, a friend told me that David Tanis had a Fig and Almond Cake recipe in the New York Times so I took a look and decided that it was for me. And for my figs. I worked with David for a number of years and am a big fan of his cookbooks, and him, and his recipes are always ace. So I gathered up the ingredients, grinding the almonds, melting the butter, and slicing the luscious, ripe figs into gorgeous rounds. As I stirred the nutty mix around the big stainless steel bowl, I knew something was up with the recipe read “pour the batter in the pan.” Still, I persevered, trying to mix the pourable batter – until I, and my spatula, snapped.
As the cake went into the oven, I went to the Times website and read the comments, to see if anyone reported any problems. None. Zip. Perplexed, I went back to the kitchen and started cleaning up, and noticed….
The cake had been in the oven for just 5 minutes or so and I wondered if I could get away with picking off the figs, scraping everything back into the bowl, adding those eggs, and hoping for the best. I won’t go on except to say that when a recipe calls for eggs, you should, indeed, add the eggs. And since I said earlier on that there are few food “urgencies”, I won’t say it was a disaster. In fact, the egg-free version of the cake was a big hit with some friends that came by.
Because I always try to see things on the positive side, I was happy to have 3 eggs leftover for another baking project. Then it was on to fudge. A lovely chocolate book had been sent to me a while back and I was anxious to try something from it. Since I’d been busy, it sat patiently on the bottom of a stack of cookbooks, until I pulled it out this week and landed on the chocolate fudge recipe, which piqued my American interest.
I was hesitant to use the last bag of pecans someone brought me from the states, so I went with walnuts. (Which they’d also brought me, but I’m less-inclined to swoon over walnuts than I am over pecans. And when I recently saw American pecans in Paris…priced at $15.99 per pound, no doubt in anticipation for the upcoming fall American holiday season, where expat bakers go to great lengths – and at great expense – to recreate all-American desserts for celebrations, I wanted to hang onto my last bag even more urgently. Uh, I mean, more fervently.)
The instructions said the cook the ingredients to a certain temperature, which would take 15 minutes. After 3 minutes of cooking, the temperature of the ingredients was right there.
So I semi-urgently scrambled to follow the rest of the recipe, adding my precious (and only half toasted) organic walnuts and the chocolate, then letting the mixture rest, then pouring it into the prepared pan. Am not sure what happened, but the vaguely chocolate-colored mixture didn’t resemble the photo in the book (my first clue might have been that the recipe had less than 1/4-pound of chocolate in it), and the tray of fudge had shiny slick on top.
But I’m going to call it my fault as well, especially considering my experience with the fig cake. And I should give both another shot. But first….I had something else to take care of…
But just to prove that the week wasn’t a total loss. I got back on my horse and re-made the Fig and Almond tart. (Even though my French friends loved the first one, it was harder to palm off American fudge on French folks.) With the three eggs added that I had leftover, the nutty batter was – as promised by the recipe – pourable. And fortunately I keep plenty of back-up spatulas (and figs) on hand, so into the pan the nutty batter and figs went.
As the fudge set, which I was happy to find out, it did, I was able to slice it and it was tasty, although I may stick with marshmallow fudge as my default.
As for the cake, I was thrilled to pull it out of the oven and find it had baked beautifully and tasted great. The only thing I need to do is get my oven rack leveled. But I’ll save that for next week.