Thursday, February 15, 2018

French Cheese: Pont-l'Évêque

From the Normandy town, Pont-l'Évêque (Bishop's Bridge), comes an eponymous AOC cheese tasting of butter and hazelnut. Since it is marketed in a wooden square container, not only is it carelessly referred to as Brie in a box, it is also a cinch to make fondue right in its packaging.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degree F). Remove lid and discard.

Remove cheese and unwrap.

Remove any labels from the lower box half.

Flatbread for dipping!

Line the bottom of the box with parchment paper and fit in the cheese. Slash its rind several times. If desired, herbs and/or garlic could be tucked in. If slashed more deeply, then white wine or Calvados could be added. Place on lined baking sheet.

Bake for around twenty minutes. The rind will puff up and there will be some lava flows.

Slice the flatbread like you would a pizza. If presenting as a dessert, then apple or/and pear slices could be substituted. In that case accompany with a white wine on the sweeter side.

The wedge shape is so functional, the pointy end pierces through the croute while the wide edge acts like a handle, keeping your fingers away from the cheese. 

Molten cheese draped over flatbread triangles is a pleasure that embellishes daily life without much ado.

À la prochaine!

Other French Cheese Posts:

Bleu d'Auvergne
Bresse Bleu

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Roasted Chicken Legs & Braised Leeks

How to enjoy roast chicken without the bother of roasting one? Yes, there is always the local rotisseriein France, they are as common as bakeries and beauty centres. But the real answer is chicken legs! They are inexpensive, succulent, and because of their being the dark meat, contains more iron than breasts. They are also a simple way of ensuring of having evenly cooked meat, that is, no overdone breasts because there aren't any. When a large quantity of chicken legs are roasted, the chef gets many of the same benefits of roasting a whole chicken: crispy skin, lots of leftovers, a good amount of drippings for gravy, and meaty bones from which to make flavoursome broth.

Preheat oven to 218 degrees C/425 degrees F. Though any oven pan can be used, a rimmed baking sheet does the trick because it's capacious so as to contain numerous legs, shallow enough to encourage crisping, and has sufficient depth to contain the drippings. The pan can be lined with foil or in my case covered with a thin, flexible, usable pan protector. Keeping the seasoning simple, using just butter . . .

. . .  and coarse salt . . . 

. . . goes a long way in tastiness.

While the chicken is roasting, prepare the braised leeks. Trim off the tough green tops and roots. Slice down the length without cutting through the side or the bottom. Splay out the leek layers under running water and rinse well, targeting any trapped grit or soil. Slice thinly. Melt a knob of butter in a skillet, add the leeks, stir for a minute or two until mostly wilted, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until tender which takes around fifteen minutes. They will braise in their own juices. Keep warm until the chicken is done.

Depending on the size and number of chicken legs, it could take from thirty to sixty minutes before they become crackly crisp.  Our six medium ones took around thirty minutes. No need to turn them. Pierce one in the thickest part to see if the juices run clear.

Place them on the bed of leeks. The butter theme is strong in this one, with textural side notes both crisp and soft.

Left-over chicken can be shredded off the bones, portioned, and frozen. Once defrosted, it can be added to pasta and grains, stuffed inside tacos, enchiladas, and pita bread, tossed with avocado. It's delicious served hot, warm, or chilled.

There was a nice amount of jellied drippings which I put on left-over pasta shells and peas. The next day I added shredded chicken and gently reheated. Most excellent.

Knowledgeable, talented, and thrifty cooks always have made various stocks from meat bones and vegetables. So the exceedingly fashionable 'bone broth' which is being presented as something fabulously unique, has been around a long time. Regardless your perspective, it is gorgeous stuff. Using a suitably sized pot, throw in the meaty bones along with savoury veggies like carrots, onions, celery, herbs too, like bay leaf, parsley, thyme, sage, don't forget spices also, like peppercorns, cloves, ginger, cayenne, garlic. Cover with water. Simmer, partially liddedso broth can become concentratedfor three to five hours. A steamy kitchen and a gurgle here, a warble there, coming from a stock pot relaxes me like few things can. However, if you are more out than in your home, do the simmering in a crock pot overnight. Instant pot and pressure cookers are also alternatives.

À la prochaine!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Review/The Confidence Game: The Psychology Of The Con And Why We Fall For It Every Time By Maria Konnikova

There's a con tailor made for each and every one of us potentially waiting around any corner because the confidence gamer is looking for the perfect mark, and that description could fit you.

Ms Konnikova writes a fascinating account showing how a con is done and the victim is reeled in through various stages as their psychological penchants including face-saving, hoping for the best, and not cutting losses are highjacked. Meticulous research presented via her riveting authorship is similar to an action film replete with flashbacks, voice-overs, multiple plot lines, and a legion of characters, both A-listers and supporting cast.

Since nobody thinks they can be conned, because of the wonky perception that being tricked obviously only happens to others and not you, the confidence huckster will use this misguided confidence to their advantage. If you are an expert, consider that expertise your probable entry point to being conned. Unwavering belief in your own skepticism, logic, rationality, and the emotional investment in your self-identity are all keys rattling on a con's key chain. Michael Crichton, a trained medical doctor who became a well-known and highly successful author, screenwriter, director, and producer got repeatedly conned by The Great Imposter, Ferdinand Waldo Demara while Crichton was penning his first two books which were about Mr. Demara.

Though using the Internet as a means to con is mentioned, I would have loved if that approach could have been elaborated upon further, especially in the glorious dinger of a wrap-up chapter regarding cult indoctrination. Self-help gurus, financial sharks, spirituality fleecers, and knowledge pushers peddling shallow, confusing perspectives and advice that if followed will have the duped crashing through the thin ice of gullibility into the freezing water of time and/or money loss only to wonder where did that lovely skating towards whatever reward was alluded went to all flourish on the web. These gurus could have bona fide credentials such as academic degrees, and while not specifically breaking the law, still not exactly delivering what they are espousing. I find this type alarming because they can just keep spouting their baloney, harming others in various ways, without ever worrying about being closed down by the law. 

Though the dark triad traits of Psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and Narcissism can work to your advantage when conning, a person who cons doesn't have to have these traits. The one aspect that all fraudsters share is that they choose to con others because not only do they identify the opportunity but they also give themselves a rationale to do so. Keep in mind that despite the fact that not all dark triad trait individuals swindle in a clearly illegal manner, psychologists have established that they wreak serious havoc with their self-absorbed, non-reciprocal, and concealed interface in both their public and private lives.

A deeper understanding of myself and others kept bubbling to the surface as I read. The best foil against becoming entangled in a confidence game regardless its level is self-knowledge. Identify your vulnerability when you are vulnerable: Is a pity play softening further your already exceedingly soft heart? Are you lonely? Do you have money troubles? Are you experiencing health problems? Do societal changes stress you?

The possibility of being conned can't be completely eliminated as our self-knowledge is in a state of flux. However there's a greater chance to cut losses if you realise that you can do exactly that, the very defence a con artist tries her best to prevent your wielding because without someone to play to the planned end, the payout will be none or much less, and even worse, the law could be brought in before the blowoff and fix can be completed. Those two confidence game jargon words involve the techniques to convince the victim to keep quiet so the trickster can remain free to continue the game with others.

Completing this book borders both on a therapeutic session, a very affordable one, with a gifted psychologist and a brainstorming session with an inspirational teacher. 

À la prochaine!


Book Review / Florike Egmond's An Eye For Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Not Quite Somnolent January Garden

Stroll around a garden. Yes, during January. Just dress warmly. Keep those eyes sharp and many wondrous sights will await such as the belated holiday gift of festive red and green leaves unfurling on a rugosa rose.

Pink tubular bells cover Erica darleyensis which tolerates neutral to slightly alkaline soil unlike most acid-loving heathers.

Dainty English daisies are starting to dot the lawn.

A cluster of tiny, downy flower buds on the bay laurel is turning rosy.

Lime and rust coloured lichens (a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi in a symbiotic relationship) are at home on the slowly decaying cherry plum tree.

Plump berries adorn a gold dust plant (Japanese aucuba).

The yucca fans out in shades of green, from light to dark.

Moss. Dots of it here. Larger patches there. And some the size of a throw rug making a well-weathered, low cement wall cosy in the frigid air.

Besides these encouraging signs of life, it is also inspirational to see plant parts usually hidden from view during spring and summer like a silver-spotted-with-gold rugosa thorn brightening up an otherwise gloomy corner . . .

. . . or spotting the remnants of summery largesse as in a rose of Sharon's overwintered, burst seed pod resembling a golden crown filled with ebony treasure.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Winter Break!

Winter Solstice is coming around the bend which means it is that time of the year when Souped-up Garden takes a break. Our seasonal book ordering is going at a great clip with a book arriving almost every day. 

A well-cushioned stack with the kitchen timer close by so there will be no meal burning while I am immersed in reading a book

Those comfy cushions are waiting for Dirac The Cat to vacate my reading chair.

The Calm One and I wish you and yours wonderful holidays. See you next year!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book Review / Florike Egmond's An Eye For Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500–1630

In 2003, while browsing through images of sixteenth century naturalia housed in Amsterdam University Library, Ms Egmond came across a collection of non-attributed drawings and watercolours. It was only ten years later that the collectors were identified as Conrad Gessner* and Felix Plater. Though other images from that period are featured also in Eye For Detail, it is this treasure trove** brought back into the light after languishing in a forgotten state which casts a sparkle over her exacting scholarship, that is, once the reader catches the few lines near the book's end that matter-a-factly and without hubris divulges this intriguing nugget of information. The graceful relationship the author has with her own painstaking research reflects a similar though more tenuous one that several naturalists of the sixteenth century based in a geographical area spanning Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy shared with each other.

The author's thesis which is put together layer by intricate layer is that the embracing of science did not cause a rupture from the style, scope, and use of images already established before its blossoming. The visual handle did not erupt fully formed just because science had such tools like the microscope. However, since so much more information eventually supplied by advanced technological methodology was lacking, it is that century's grasp of concepts such as regeneration which can be justifiably perceived as being disjointed.

Egmond's account is a carefully wrought one, rich in details with each point expanding into generously broader territory thereby ensuring stimulation and satisfaction of intellectual curiosity. As a passionate lover of plantsmy first love was a morning glory, the second was a lilac, and by the time my next crush revealed itself to be a pansy, I realised this serial monogamy meant I adored all that is within their kingdom—I found her ability to weave together the challenging tapestry of art and science as fascinating as those members of that remarkable club with which I am smitten. Though scholarly, her writing never loses its passion.

  *Gessner was a Renaissance polymath and is regarded as the father of botany, zoology, and bibliography. Anna Pavord, the gardening writer, aptly puts it: He was an one-man search engine, a 16th-century Google with the added bonus of critical evaluation.
**Some of the wonderful animal images re-discovered by Egmond are in this Guardian article


Publisher of Eye For Detail