Caffeine Time

Caffeine Time

Time still feels different but gone is the molasses. Enter the caffeine, as days become achingly short. They’re naturally short  because of the season. But now they’re literally short.  Until yesterday, we were  living under “le couvre feu”, curfew.  The term literally translates as “cover the fire” and it dates from the Middle Ages when people were required to put out their fires at a certain evening hour.  In English it became “curfew”, and until yesterday it meant we had to be off the streets until 6 a.m.  As of today, the “couvre few” became “confinement”.  Now, we have to be off the streets 23 hours a day.

neighborhood cafe
Last call at Place Edgar Quinet

Which makes the day REALLY short. We race around to get everything done outdoors in one hour.  It makes last weeks’ “couvre feu” seem like wild freedom, though at the time it was odd.  And it created some amusing situations, like the birthday party I went to in the 16th arrondissement which is about 20 minutes away by bike.  We were six; five guests, from different parts of the city.  We began outrageously early by French standards, at 6 p.m.( A typical “soiree” in France begins at 8 p.m. with a meal being served closer to 9 p.m., or later.)  The “Birthday Girl” gives opulent parties and this was no exception – we had amuses bouche, champagne, more champagne, then we sat at the table to begin a four course meal.

Let me digress about the meal, which was international as were the guests.   It included ethereal Portuguese salt cod fritters, which are usually fatty and heavy.  Then, we had richly flavored watercress soup, an ode to green. And then, la pièce de résistance! One of the guests is Finnish and he’d just returned from Finland, where his father-the-hunter slipped a gift into his suitcase:  Reindeer loin!  It was cooked to melting tenderness in cream and herbs, then served on a bed of  truffled mashed potatoes.  Its flavor was mild and while it melted in the mouth, it had opulent texture.   (As much as I would like to,  I won’t be re-creating it for you – reindeer loin is just too hard to procure).

The cheese course was two versions of Comté, one 18 months old, the other 24 months, a brilliant way to highlight one of France’s finest cheeses.  Then there were two birthday cakes, one made with pears and pecans, the other a chocolate dream gently flavored with mint.

There we were in the magic of the moment, reindeer and all, when one of the guests stood and said “Oh my god we have to go.”  There was a mad scramble for coats and bicycle helmets, and those of us who didn’t live in the apartment ran to the elevator and onto the street.  I flew home; I’m sure the others did.  And when I got there I realized no one had helped with the dishes; we hadn’t finished our conversations; we had hardly said goodbye.

Today, that experience, rushed ending and all, seems dreamy.  It’s a memory to savor, to live on.  Here in confinement land we watch the numbers and wish them to fall; the health ministers are watching too and President Macron will give us an update in two weeks. If they are down, we will gain freedoms.  If they are steady, continued lockdown.  The hottest controversy on the radio this morning?  Bookstore closures.  As if the entire country has risen to say “Anything, anything but bookstore closures.”  Vive la France.

I’m sharing a recipe with that has nothing to do with my story EXCEPT the mouth-melting tenderness part!  But it’s seasonal, while farm-fresh peppers are still here.  Make it, enjoy it.  It’s from my upcoming book  PLAT DU JOUR,  which is  ready for pre-order.  Make it, share it, love it! Bon Appétit!

chilindron
fhphoto

 

Print Recipe
Basque Lamb and Pepper Stew
Basque Lamb and Pepper Stew
Cuisine French
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 12 ounces; 360g (about 2) red bell peppers cored, seeded, cut into ½-inch (1.25cm) pieces
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 pounds; 1.5kg leg of lamb bone removed, cut into 2-inch (5cm) pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves diced
  • 1 large ( 7 ounce;210g) onion diced
  • 2 medium (5 ounce; 150g) each tomatoes cored and diced (to give 2/3 cup (160ml)
Cuisine French
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 12 ounces; 360g (about 2) red bell peppers cored, seeded, cut into ½-inch (1.25cm) pieces
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 pounds; 1.5kg leg of lamb bone removed, cut into 2-inch (5cm) pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves diced
  • 1 large ( 7 ounce;210g) onion diced
  • 2 medium (5 ounce; 150g) each tomatoes cored and diced (to give 2/3 cup (160ml)
Basque Lamb and Pepper Stew
Instructions
  1. Place the peppers in a large bowl, cover with 3 cups (750ml) water, or enough to completely cover, and let sit for 2 hours.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the lamb, season it with salt, and brown it on all sides, which will take 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the lamb from the pot and add the onions and the garlic, and additional oil if the pan is dry. Cook, stirring frequently so the onion doesn’t burn, until the onion is tender through, which will take 12 to 15 minutes.
  4. Return the lamb to the onions and the garlic, along with any juices the meat has given up. Stir, add the tomato sauce, the peppers, and the water from the peppers. The lamb should be just covered with water.
  5. Increase the heat enough to bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat so it simmers, cover, and cook until the lamb is nearly tender, checking and stirring from time to time, for 1 hour. Remove the lid from the pan and continue cooking until the lamb is thoroughly tender and the liquid has reduced into a luscious, rather thick sauce, 30 to 45 more minutes. Adjust the seasoning and serve.
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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Virginia Morris

    I am a bit confused by the recipe. The ingredient list does not include peppers and in the instructions, I am not sure what you mean by the tomato sauce.

    I loved this column and my heart is breaking for the continued imposition of this virus on our lives. My best to you – I miss being in Paris and look forward to the day I will return.

    1. Susan

      Virginia – I’m sorry you are confused . i blame – accurately – the missing peppers on the recipe program, but they are back. As for allusion to tomato sauce, I will go check that. Thank you!! We’re ok.

  2. Cathy

    I am so sorry to hear you’re back in lockdown.
    Somehow I think we’re right behind you in America.

    As much as I hate to admit it I adore reindeer meat. I was very fortunate to have it while I was working in Norway. It is exactly as you have described.

    Now that it has cooled off a little bit here I look forward to making your lamb stew.

    Stay healthy safe and sane. 🤪

    1. Susan

      Cathy – It was wonderful, and it’s something of a staple in Finland. I guess that we were extremely fortunate to get the loin! Yes, staying sane, and the arguments here are incredible. I predict stores will re-open soon. Everyone is panicking because it’s pre-Christmas….

  3. Alyce Morgan

    Pre-ordered and looking forward to January! Bonne chance with both the confinement AND the new book, which looks lovely, as always. I’m printing out the lamb recipe in hopes I can score leg of lamb somewhere to make it for a special occasion. Though we have some of the best lamb in the world in Colorado, it is often difficult to find locally. We seem to have plenty of NZ lamb. Weird world!

    1. Susan

      new Zealand lamb isn’t bad, and it’s less expensive. But I couldn’t agree more – hold out for Colorado lamb!

  4. Marian

    The Basque lamb dish sounds wonderful. Peppers? How many & what kind? I love your recipes!

    1. Susan

      Marian, Check back on the peppers. They fell out of the recipe and hopped back in!
      Thank you!

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