Fresh Eggs & Oeufs Mayonnaise

Some people will say making mayonnaise is incredibly easy. Others will say it's impossibly hard. Both will be lying a little bit. 

The challenge in making mayonnaise, which is easy enough that anyone can do it but hard enough that they'll fail a bunch along the way, lies in marrying together the water from the egg yolks with olive oil that is slowly added to the yolks. This is done through the process of emulsion or, in less technical terms, whisking until you feel like your arm will fall off

Whether you find it a challenge or a piece of cake, making mayonnaise is undeniably easier when you have good eggs. Mayonnaise eggs should be fresh and at room temperature (opinions on the importance of their temperature vary, I believe room temperature yolks improve your chances of winning at mayonnaise). 

Getting eggs to be room temperature is easy enough-  just plan on taking them out of the fridge an hour or so before you'll be making your mayonnaise- but getting truly fresh eggs may be a little harder. Thankfully, country life has simplified this step for me. 

I recently became a foster parent to a brood of chickens consisting of three laying hens and one rooster. They were put in our charge by our friend, Noëlla Morantin a few months ago.

Noëlla informed us that the hens hadn't been laying eggs for her- maybe it was the season, maybe they weren't in the mood-  but she told us we shouldn't expect eggs any time soon.

After factoring in their shock at being taken from Noëlla's chicken coop and being brought to their new home (which we had cleaned out and made cosy in advance), we figured we shouldn't hold our breath for fresh eggs

rooster coffee.jpg

We were happy for the chickens' presence eggs or no eggs. The rooster immediately started crowing in the morning, giving our country home serious farm cred. On sunny days we'd watch the feathered crew explore their new grounds as we sipped coffee in the sun. The cats found the new residents absolutely delightful- not intimidating enough to inspire fear and just mobile enough to provide hours of fun as they tracked and spied on them from hiding spots. 

And then one day, Ben found an egg and I knew our daily lives had just changed in a small and enormous way. For a little over a week now, we've had an egg a day, thanks to our lovely white hen, who we call L'Islandaise due to the black collar around her neck that makes her look like she's wearing an Icelandic sweater

We're hoping her efforts will inspire the other ladies to start laying, in the meantime she's inspired more than a few batches of homemade mayonnaise

Oeufs Mayonnaisse

I've managed to make a few successful batches of mayonnaise back in the day, but I never really felt like I could master mayo until I read Tamar Adler's wonderful book An Everlasting Meal. I use a little less oil and a little more salt than the original recipe, but that's as far as I'll stray from Adler's advice. 

Ingredients:

2 eggs yolks (room temperature)

2 pinches of salt

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups (350 mL) olive oil

Dash of water

Drop of red wine vinegar

One hard boiled egg per person

Optional:

Cayenne pepper

Mâche or other greens for a garnish/salad

Preparation

Whisk together egg yolks, salt, and mustard until the mixture becomes creamy and lightens slightly in color. SLOWLY begin to add olive oil- this can be as little as a few drops at a time in the beginning, whisking vigourously while adding the oil. It is crucial that the mixture doesn't turn to liquid, it should be becoming thicker and almost elastic as the oil is mixed in. Once you have a good base of oil integrated into the thickening yolk mixture you can be braver with adding the oil. Keep adding oil until finished- if at some point the mayonnaise seems too stiff, add a dash of water and get back to whisking. Finish with whisking in a drop of red wine vinegar. Add salt to taste. 

Cut hard boiled eggs in half and top each half with a spoonful of fresh mayonnaise. Cayenne pepper is a traditional topping for oeufs mayonnaise and bright fresh greens make a nice side salad to the dish. 


My First Pond Draining Party + A Recipe for Fresh Friture

When moving to a new place, I think it's best to adopt an attitude which involves saying “Yes” to everything. So while I'm generally not in the market for eel or other local fishy favorites (I haven't yet developed a taste for the fresh water varieties in the region), I said yes to my friend Laurent when he asked if me and my boyfriend Ben wanted to go along with him and his girlfriend to a pond draining party nearby my new home in the Loire Valley.

It wasn't actually the pond draining itself that was the main attraction. Even if seeing the gunky surface and flattened flora of an otherwise inundated pond floor is a pretty cool, what really drew crowds was the resulting sale of fresh fish scooped out of the dwindling waters of the Etang d'Aiguevives.

In honor of the event, eels, crawfish, carp, and pike were sorted and transported into oversize kiddie pools where spectators and armchair anglers  could leisurely choose their catch of the day.

Seeing these monstrous fish- the biggest I had ever seen in real life- being plucked out of makeshift ponds and thrown into wicker baskets or firmly stowed under the rough wool sweater clad arms of burly outdoorsmen was something I hadn't prepared myself for- though I'm not sure what I expected to happen at an everything-must-go fish sales event.

I think I can speak for most of us when I admit to being totally divorced from the process of turning animals into food. I had left the step between pond, lake, river or sea to market stand intentionally murky and unexplored, for the very honest reason that seeing, or even things die makes me sad.

I'm actively trying to deal with this sadness and accept it as a reality that I can incorporate into my life with some sort of understanding. Recently I became the guardian of my first ever animals that I might end up eating one day- a small posse of chickens that I am enamored with, but trying not to be attached to. I think this recent fish fest was a good warm up to understanding what it is to raise, and slaughter, animals.

Being witness to the mass asphyxiation of fish is a troubling experience. It is also an experience that- like many moments experienced in the countryside- brings you closer to nature and your sources of food. The event was shocking at first, but then I understood it as cyclical- the regular cleaning of a pond means a rebirth and new, fresh waters. Some fish are kept to carry on the life in the pond, others are taken to homes around the region to sustain life outside the pond. With a respect for nature and its preservation, as well as the energy that life on earth gives us, fishermen and women do the hard work of transforming fish into our food. 

While at the pond draining party I made my way over to the food counter, where the smell of frying oil and fish were attracting hungry villagers equipped glasses of rosé wine. The plat du jour was friture-  a delicious dish that I had only seen in the South of France, but also totally made sense in this context, as it depends entirely on having access to super fresh fish. A little rosé doesn't hurt, either.

I asked the smiling woman at the frying station if I could watch her make a batch of friture and she kindly agreed, immediately sharing the recipe with me as her hands swiftly prepared the fish, something she had clearly done hundreds of times. Friture is this: small fish, flour, salt, and, of course, oil.  "That's it!” the woman told me, throwing some freshly fried fish into a plastic dish and handing it to me along with a salt shaker. “You can add a little lemon, too” she added, “if you have one.”

Friture

Ingredients

About 1 cup (200 grams) per person of tiny fresh whitebait fish, like gudgeon, smelt, or sperling

Frying oil- something neutral like vegetable oil works well

All purpose flour

Salt

Optional: lemon

Preparation

Fill a large or medium sized pot halfway with oil and bring to a low boil.

While waiting for the oil to heat up, prepare the fish. If you are eeked out by eating fish heads, you can remove them from your fish first- but if you do that know you'll be missing out on the true friture experience, so why not just keep the fish whole? Quickly rinse the fish under cold water in a colander and then shake to remove excess moisture.

Toss fish in flour until lightly covered, then add floured fish to the hot oil- you don't want fish to crowd or stick together, so do this in small batches. Fry for 3-5 minutes, or until fish are golden then remove from oil and place of paper towels to absorb some of the oil. Serve immediately with salt and lemon, if you have it.

Apple Picking + Apple and Quince Tarte Tatin

When my friends Julien and Juliette got the keys to an abandoned apple orchard in the Loire Valley I jumped at the chance to join them for some apple-picking. The trees were on the property of a vacation house belonging to a couple that is in Paris most of the year, and therefore not often around for harvest season

In true spirit of the countryside- let nothing go to waste- the homeowners kindly opened their orchard to us, where we found at least three different apple varieties, and a row of quince trees, still holding on to their last fruits of the season

In preparation for a late afternoon among the apples, suited up in my indestructible Icelandic sweater, I was ready for another harvesting adventure. While our team of freelance harvesters was prepared with boots and warm sweaters, we had neglected to bring a ladder, limiting the scope of our harvest a bit, but not so much that we didn't fill up the four wooden crates the Julien and Juliette had brought along. 

Whenever I think of apple-picking, which I had only thought of- and never taken part in until now- I immediately think of the Robert Frost poem "After Apple-Picking". One line kept coming back to me as I explored the orchard alone. It's repeated twice in the poem: "But I am done with apple-picking now." I kept thinking of this line, even if I was just getting started with apple picking now. 

I paused in front of lichen-covered trees, which had formed alliances with blackberry bushes and brambles fortifying their security and introducing an anarchy of branches and spikes in the otherwise orderly rows. I thought about how apple-picking is just that- making a choice of which fruit to take, picking from the bruised or rotting, the pierced and worm-eaten apples, looking for what you think is best

Despite being excited about apple-picking, and not having the benefit of Robert Frost's "long two-pointed ladder...sticking through a tree", I identified with other reflections in Frost's poem. Like most of my favorite poems of his, this one is kind of sad and completely about death, but in that meditative Robert Frost way that is good for you. 

His mood and words are fitting for this time of year, when the air gets thin and we start to heat our houses and put on warm winter socks, endings and afterwards are naturally on our minds.

The grapevines have been harvested, walnuts and chestnuts take a kamikaze plunge to the ground below, where their protective skin will rot away, leaving them defenseless. And then there's an instant for picking apples- before they start to rot or their sensitive skin bruises- one bad apple will spoil the bunch- and you have to act quickly, because the days are getting shorter and your feet are feeling cold.

It's hard to decide when you're done with apple-picking. It seems that the "before" and the "after" of apple-picking get closer and closer as the season progresses, no matter how hard you try to stretch out the day or your time in the orchard.

Maybe apple-picking is over when your crate is full, or maybe when your shoulders are sore from boosting someone up into the branches. Maybe it's over when you realize it's enough to spend even those few short moments, wandering through a quiet orchard, alone and with friends, picking the last fruit these autumn trees will offer, before giving us their leaves

Apple and Quince Tarte Tatin

If you don't know what quince are, you're not alone. This is a new discovery for me and I'm still figuring it out. Quince react well to a lot of sugar, being rather bitter and lacking a natural sweetness. Fruit leather or a heavily sweetened jam are popular uses for quince. I like pairing them, a little less than equally, with apples for a spin on a traditional Tarte Tatin. You can easily lave out quince if you don't have them on hand, but if you do, this is one of the best things you can do with them. This recipe was inspired by Ripailles, which also suggests variations which include using pears, bananas and pineapples. 

For the pâte feuilletée:

Ingredients

2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup (225 grams) butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup (120 mL) cold water

Preparation

Sift flour into a medium mixing bowl and stir in salt. Break butter into medium-sized chunks and combine them into the flour and salt mixture by massaging them in with clean hands. Combine until mixture sticks together and can form a loose ball incorporating most of the flour, some clumps of butter can remain. 

Make a well in the butter and flour mixture and slowly add cold water. Incorporate water with your hands until you have included the remaining flour. On a clean, preferably wooden, surface sprinkle flour and roll out your ball of dough into a rectangle. Once you've reached a consistency of about 1/4 inch, fold the top and bottom third of the rectangle to meet each other in the middle. Flip the dough over and roll into a rectangle again. Repeat folding technique and place dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Repeat this cycle three times before rolling out the dough a final time for baking. 

For the Tarte Tatin:

Ingredients

Pâte feuilletée

4 large apples, peeled, cored and cut in half (use whichever locally grown apples you would use in a traditional apple pie)*

2 large quince, peeled, cored and cut in half then cooked in boiling for 10 minutes, or until very tender

4 tablespoons (60 grams) butter

5 tablespoons (100 grams) sugar

*Use 6-8 apples if omitting quince

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Place a deep pie tin directly on the stovetop at high heat. Melt butter and add sugar. Stir together until combined and then let caramelize until it begins to brown and thicken. Stir again to prevent burning and remove from heat. Arrange apples and quince halves tightly and face down in the caramel mixture. Fit as many as possible in the pie tin. Save remaining fruit to make quince-applesauce. Place pie tin in oven and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cover apples and quince with the pâte feuilletée, cutting around the edges so that it sits on top of the fruit, without hanging over the edges of the tin. REturn to oven and bake for another 20 minutes, or until pastry dough is golden. Remove from heat and reverse pie tin onto a large plate, while still hot. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.