Chocolate bunny. Photo © Michelle (pa1nt), via creative commons and flickr

Warning: The following contains information that may be disturbing to chocolate-lovers. Reader discretion is advised.

I hate to break it to you just as you nibble on your chocolate Easter bunny’s ear, but we’ve been misled.

Happily and willingly misled, but misled nonetheless.

Chocolate eggs. Photo © Emily McCracken, via creative commons and flickrThose expensive, for-adult-consumption-only Easter eggs you stashed out of the kids’ reach? They aren’t going to keep your teeth from falling out.

The dark chocolate bunny (85 per cent cocoa) you selected—expressly, I know—to help stave off the heart disease that lurks in your DNA? It won’t.

Neither will it help you out-debate your belligerent brother-in-law at the festive table this evening, nor remember the names of his three—or was that five?—ex-wives and their abundant broods that he’s invited along.

I’m sorry.

For two decades, we’ve heard that the taste-good, feel-good, go-to food we turn to for a legal dopamine fix when our bosses, brothers-in-law and kids infuriate us can help keep us healthy. Popular media celebrated every study that hinted at links between chocolate consumption and decreased tooth decay, improved memory, improved circulation, decreased risk of heart disease and strokes, lower body mass index, and so on.

The reports provided hope—and justification for indulging…..

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Table Setting 74. Photo © Didriks, via Creative Commons and flickr.

“I’m setting out the small dinner plates,” Nature Boy announced the other evening as we prepared to welcome guests. “It will help pace us through the meal.”

Nature Boy recently assumed responsibility for setting the table for evening meals. With meals round these parts typically being the quick and informal sort, the choice of dinnerware rarely receives much thought.

But the task becomes more complicated when, as with the evening in question, guests are expected, menus encompass multiple courses, and appetites must be managed throughout the evening. Such occasions call upon Nature Boy to tune up his geometry and social-engineering skills. It’s not just a matter of how to seat so many people around a limited dining surface, but (he asserts) incorporating the latest social and neurological science into the effects of the setting—and the setting of the table—on the perception and enjoyment of the food served.

Nature Boy’s efforts at table landscaping have climbed to new intellectual and socially manipulative heights.

The studies Nature Boy called on when he selected smaller plates determined that plate size affects how much food people serve themselves and how much they think they’re eating….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Feast of the bean king, by Jakob Jordaens (1593–1678). Wikimedia Commons

Feast of the bean king, by Jakob Jordaens (1593–1678). Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding having people over for dinner for any occasion is getting more and more complicated.

First, there are the scheduling issues. Who is available when, and can we please—please!—manage to get together, all of us, just this once this year? Okay, how about once this decade? This lifetime?

And then there’s the food. With every invitation I send out, I’m tempted to include a dietary-needs declaration form to be filled in and returned with the r.s.v.p. Maybe guests can arrange for their family doctors to sign it, too, or have it notarized. You know, in case they forget something critical.

One friend calls our circle of mutual friends the Picky Eaters’ Club. We include the usual assortment of celiacs, nut and dairy allergies, vegetarians, and blood-sugar problems. We also have some well-meaning foodists—those who choose a particular life or eating style for moral or philosophical reasons, or for just plain personal preference….

Continue reading this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist.

As Gaston and Mimi are unlikely to be in a city that is home to a Joël Robuchon restaurant with enough cash in their bank account to splurge on a meal planned, if not actually cooked, by the many-starred Robuchon, they recently resorted to the pauper’s experience of the Gault Millau‘s Chef of the (Last) Century.

French chefs who make the three-star Michelin grade on French soil frequently expand and diversify. They open additional restaurants in Tokyo, New York, Las Vegas, and other well-heeled metropoles. They create specialty and ordinary food product lines for specialty and ordinary people, respectively. They publish cookbooks or star in reality T.V. shows on the Food Network. They capitalize, generally, on any means of branding and production in the food, cuisine, and cooking domaine.

Because, apparently, succeeding in the restaurant business is a precarious enterprise for even the best. Even in the country that reveres its top chefs and idolizes them more than movie stars.

So, in addition to opening a dozen restaurants in eight cities around the world, publishing multiple cookbooks, and managing the expectations that a total of 28 Michelin stars inspire, M. Robuchon teamed up with a producer of frozen foods to recreate T.V. dinner, French-style.

After a long day’s hike, Gaston and Mimi pulled two packages out of the frigo, threw them in the oven, and subsequently sampled confit de canard parmentier (butter-laden shepherd’s pie with duck) and pâtes à la basilique et poulet (pesto linguine with chicken). The food was pretty good, for frozen dinners. Certainly tastier than anything they’d find in the supermarket freezer section at home.

But, then, the French would require that.

And M. Robuchon does have a reputation to consider.

“Who comes to France to make soup?” asks Gaston.

“What more French thing to do than to boil up a carcass with some mirepoix to make potage?” Mimi responds.

Making soup is part of our Monday ritual at Montplaisir. First, visit the Monday morning Mirepoix market and purchase produce for the week. Next, go to the bakery and stock up on baguettes and other breads to last the next 36 hours. Last stop on the excursion: go by the rotisserie wagon to pick up lunch: one whole chicken and a carton of potatoes roasted in a pan under the turning chickens to catch all their jus (and fat).

Back to Montplaisir, where Gaston debones the bird and sets the skeletal bits to boil in a potful of water on the stove. Mimi makes a green salad and slices bread. They eat; the carcass simmers; they sip blanquette; the carcass simmers; they clean up; the carcass simmers; they find their current reading material and lounge on the terrace; the carcass simmers. At last, Mimi strains the stock and sets it to cool, and Gaston brings the resulting chicken trash up to the dustbins at the top of the road.

Then, the creative part: consolidating and taking care of many of the bits in the frigo—that last carrot from the previous week’s trip to the market, the lonely, withering stalk of celery, the handful of leek leaves and half an onion, the leftover potatoes and bits of meat from lunch, the rice from the previous night’s supper, and the herbs harvested from fields and trailsides during the week’s hikes.

Different each time. Satisfying every time.

roast-chicken wagon at the market

Roast-chicken wagon at the market

Other kitchen adventures include:

  • Duck, cooked lightly with coat of fresh-ground pepper, then served with steamed spinach and apricot-and-onion confit. That was yummy;
  • A green salad dressed with peaches stewed in balsamic vinegar and strips of dry ham.
  • Pasta in a ham, wine, eggplant and tomato sauce, with field herbs;
  • Onion tart with Dijon-mustard seasoning;
  • Onion and tomato tart;
  • Mimi’s signature fennel-apple-hazelnut salad with Dijon vinaigrette—the real French dressing;
  • Stacks of roasted eggplant, roasted red pepper, roasted tomato and fresh cheese, with balsamic syrup and figs;
  • and Cédric Diant’s pastries from Mirepoix.

Last time, Mimi tried cooking rabbit stew, but ended up with stewed leather instead.

In August, Mimi had promised Gaston a belated birthday lunch in a Michelin-mentioned restaurant that they, and particularly he, had enjoyed the last time they were in the area, so after a week of settling in, abiding by their prescribed two-days-per-week doin’ nuttin’ much, etc., etc., she called the restaurant at 11:30 this morning.

The conversation (translated):

Bzzzz, bzzzz. Bzzzz, bzzzz.

Recording: The House of Terroir [Editor comment: Terroir, not Terreur], a place to sample—

Restaurant: Bonjour; La Maison du terroir.

Mimi: Bonjour, Madame. I would like to make a reservation.

Restaurant: Ah, yes? For when?

Mimi: For tomorrow at lunch, if that’s possible.

Restaurant: No, that isn’t possible.

Mimi: No? – !

Restaurant: No, after dinner service this evening we close forever.

Mimi: Forever? – !

Restaurant: Yes, forever.

Mimi: But that’s unfortunate, that is.

Restaurant: Yes, that’s true.

Mimi: Well, would a reservation for today be possible?

Restaurant: Yes, but only for lunch time/noon. [In French, lunch time and noon are eponymous. Which can be confusing. But says all one needs to know about how the French consider the punctuality of their midday meal as sacrosanct.]

Mimi: At noon? How about at noon and 30?

Restaurant: Yes, that would be fine.

Yada yada, reservation details. Gaston races around to unearth the information booklet for our rental with our local telephone number.

Hang up.

Mimi turns to Gaston: “We’re having lunch there today. In 50 minutes.”

Of course, it having been two years since they drove that route, Mimi has underestimated the amount of time it would take to drive the 80 kilometres to Maury. In the rain. With flotillae of German/Dutch/North American camper-driving tourists plugging secondary highways. And there are the little difficulties of the Col du Portel (Portel Pass) and the Défilé de la Pierre Lys (Pierre Lys/Lily Stone Defile—though what the difference is between a defile vs a gorge is a mystery to me) en route, which further slows things.

Mimi and Gaston arrive at the restaurant precisely 30 minutes late. They are seated graciously and without comment. The hour (1:00) pre-empts their ability to select either of the set menus, and so they are required to order à la carte.

Not having access to Visa statements from last summer’s sojourn in Paris, Mimi cannot say for certain if this is the most or the second-most expensive lunch she and Gaston have ever enjoyed. Possibly second-most, but likely only due to the somewhat more-favourable exchange rate.

Regardless, it may be the last meal out this trip.

Bonne fête tardive, Gaston. I’m glad you enjoyed it.