2.02.2010

Precision- Comme les Français


Right off the bat I was very eager to help Madame Chic in the kitchen. I love to cook and I love French food so I wanted to take full advantage of learning her secrets. How was it that she managed to produce a delicious three-course dinner every single night without even so much as glancing into a cookbook? It was simple- she had been making these recipes for years and they came to her like second nature.

One of Madam Chic’s specialties was dessert- there was always dessert, and it was toujours delicious. My favorite of her desserts were her fruit tarts. They went from apple in the wintertime to strawberry as it neared summer. (Remember Famille Chic always ate seasonally. They would never dream of eating imported strawberries in the winter- not only for price and practicality purposes but because they were inferior to the sweet little local gems that arrived late spring).

So early one evening, she and I were in the kitchen- the window was open and the warm Parisian breeze accompanied us as we cooked. The dessert for that evening? A strawberry tart. Madame Chic made her pâtee sucrée from scratch and I helped her roll it out onto the tart pan (which had gotten unprecedented use over the years). Then came time for the strawberries- which Madame Chic instructed me to place in the lined tart pan. I had cut and hulled the tiny little berries and eagerly dumped them into the tart pan, rearranged them slightly and looked up at Madame Chic for the next step.

I was met, not with instructions on what to do next, but with a look of horror from Madame Chic.

“Jennifer,” she said (in French of course) “Non! You must arrange the strawberries artfully, symmetrically, all around the dish. Avec precision!

“Oh,” I said, looking down at my tart. I thought it looked rather nice- artistic if one were being nice.

She proceeded to show me how it should be done and started to arrange the berries around the perimeter of the crust, spiraling in as she went. I finished it off and in the center we placed the nicest looking berry. Then we proceeded to drizzle on the glaze.

“Much better,” Madame Chic said with palpable satisfaction.

I’ll never forget that day in the kitchen with Madame Chic. She taught me that no occasion is too small to live well and have only the best. That perfect little strawberry tart wasn’t made for a party or to impress guests. It was made for her family- her husband, son and me, the lucky college student that got to experience life comme les Français for those few magical months…

The strawberry tart from Everyday Food is pictured above. You can get the recipe here.

16 comments:

ELS said...

Gorgeous story; those little touches stay with one, don't they? J'adore votre blog!

ELS

Michael Rivers said...

Great post. This is something so easy to forget. We don't need a special occassion to enjoy life. We should enjoy the nice things all the time!

BonjourRomance said...

Wonderful story - a great tip from the French. It is the little things that add so much, and to those we love most of all. Now I'm sure you can make a delicious tarte.

Lisa@Pickles and Cheese said...

It's all in the details now isn't it?! Thanks for the link to the recipe. :)

Linda H said...

Very nice post. I agree with Michael. We should enjoy all the small things in life and your writing is one of them!

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

The mindful placing of the berries, art in all things...so very French chic. Everything I have read seems that details are paramount in the French culture. How fortunate for you that you were able to learn these secrets at an early age.

The Coastal Chicster said...

mmm, it seems like things just taste better when you put in that extra little bit of effort. i've been reading chic & slim by anne barone since you mentioned it a few posts ago, and i love it! i made macaroni and cheese with extra sharp white cheddar and gruyere last night and enjoyed every bite of the smallish portion i ate. way, way better than mac & cheese out of the box. :)

LPC said...

I swear I can smell those berries.

Rebecca said...

It's definitely the small details that make a difference. I am so grateful to you for sharing your stories and to be reminded of that. :)

Oshiya said...

the best food for everyday... that reminds me of last year valentine's in toronto. i was in a supermarket and there were two types of strawberries. one for everyday and the other for valentine's. of course, one for valentine's was bigger, fresher (due to better packaging) and a bit more expensive. i went to the one for valentine's even though it was just for me. the girl at the cashier looked at me with a smile like "special date?" and i was like "no, i don't have a boyfriend (*then i realized it was on the eve of valentine's*) but i want to eat the best one of all strawberries." i never understand people that need special occasion to eat better food. it should be for everyday for yourself.

Romi said...

Now all I can think is: "Where can I get a strawberry tart at this hour?", lol! I really wish you were with me when I went to Sue Wong's home, it reminded me of you, just because you could tell thought went into every single minute detail of her estate.

Kristi said...

Beautiful story that illustrates living each moment to the fullest and creating beauty in everything you do. I agree you are lucky to have learned so much of this at such a young age. Thanks for sharing.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

ELS- thank you so much xo

Michael- yes! It is a great reminder to me too...

Bonjour Romance- Actually after writing this I really wanted a strawberry tart but I have to wait a few more months until they are in season :(

Lisa- You are welcome! Let us know if you make it :)

Linda- Thank you so much!

Hostess- Yes, I am soooo grateful that I got these lessons at an early age. Sometimes I become bitter and wish I got them at an even earlier age but then again- everything happens when it is meant to...

Coastal Chicster- yay! Your mac and cheese sounds so yummy. I love rereading Anne's books- they are so funny and informative...

LPC- LOL!

Rebecca- Thanks my darling!

Oshiya- I love your story. It is not very often when we treat ourselves. We feel we need someone else or a special occasion (this also goes back to the previous post where we talked about not using the best things we have). The fact that you took those Valentine's strawberries for yourself inspires me!

Romi- I wish I went to Sue Wong's too! Your description sounded amazing....

Kristi- Thank you so much. As I told hostess I am sooo grateful I learned these things when I did- that is why whenever I meet someone in college I say "I hope you are going to study abroad!" I learned more in those six months than I did my entire college education! xo

Tish Jett said...

Yes, precision and presentation. Food does taste better when beautifully present and not slopped on a plate, even wine tastes -- or seems to taste -- better when accompanied by ambiance, candlelight, calm, simple, good food.

It's the little things. . . Always.

Marsi said...

I love tarts. They're so simple to make and look really impressive. At Cost Plus World Market, you can get little packets of gelatin glaze to pour on top. Really makes the tart look professional.

vicki archer said...

Great life lesson Jennifer...what a wise lady she was. Have a happy weekend. xv

 
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