Tuesday, January 8, 2013

cookbooks, milliardaires and kings, oh my

There's a great Frenchie Foodie blog, Chocolate and Zucchini, by Clotilde who in one post wrote about being gifted her grandmother's old French cookbooks that had belonged to her great-grandmother before her. Recipes before WWI with a focus on the young French housewife, with old, tattered pages and much loved dishes that involved lots of butter.
Last weekend I came across some of my late mother's cookbooks - even a French one or two - when I cleaned out her garage and said goodbye to my childhood home - a bit tristesse.
But the one cookbook I couldn't find - the treasure I remember - is my mother's worn, spattered paged 'The Joy of Cooking'. I remember that book open on the kitchen counter at every Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving and more often than that. The red ribbon marker stuck in the gravy page, the flecks of flour stuck in the binding, the butter stain still there from when we made butter cookies and I was ten years old. But it's gone. No trace in the boxes or anywhere so I'm commemorating her cookbook here. Yes, she gave me my own copy of 'The Joy of Cooking' which I've used, but it's not the same.
I did find her copy of the Julia Child Bible - Mastering the Art of French Cooking - which she'd used so often she'd taped the peeling binding together. That's in my kitchen now.
I salvaged the cookbooks she used which, like Clotilde's great-grandmother, came from a time when she was a young wife in the 1950's, not 1915. Here's the Gourmet Cookbook complete with her notation of a half a cup and a gravy stain.

Speaking of being in butter, as the French term the very wealthy - what's with the exodus of milliardaires - the latest being Gerard Depardieu - leaving France for tax reasons? Shouldn't the wealthy, like Gerard, spread the butter as President Hollande wants them to with a 75% tax on these milliardaires?
Gerard's an actor with an outsize personality and stringy blond hair who turns 64 next week, and has made more than 180 films in a four-decade career. Born into a working class family, his father was a metal worker and he left school at 15. He's been made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, has many children with many women and is known for his Rabelaisian appetites for wine and food. Truth to tell he's one of the only French actors today bankable throughout the world apart from Catherine Deneuve.
 Over the past year he's been in the headlines for crashing his motor scooter several times while driving drunk down a Paris street. 
Yet In the words of his ex-wife, 'This is someone who left because he lacked attention, love. Should we throw stones? He is a monument. He is a poet.'
A local hero to some and criticized by others.
He's given up his French citizenship, taken a Russian passport and been welcomed with a hug to Russia by Vladmir Putin. 

 “I paid $190 million in income taxes over 45 years,” said Depardieu, pointing out that he is “leaving after paying, in 2012, an 85 percent tax-rate on my income tax.”
He created and invested in restaurants, wine bars, vineyards: “80 people are working thanks to me, in companies that were created for them and are managed by them.

That's true. My friends live on the rue Cherche Midi in Paris, a former hangout of Gerard's when he owned a house there, one of several in Paris. They said he bought the restaurant on the corner because he liked the food and the owner couldn't meet his bills. Their local fish store too since he liked the fish and the fishmonger was in danger of closing.

But now in Russia Gerard's been offered the position of Minister of Culture in Mordovia—a region best known for its Stalin-era gulags. Somehow I can't see him going for gulag cuisine.

Meanhwhile Bernard Arnault, the richest man in France and a billiardaire, whose company owns Moet and Chrisian Dior has also moved out of France. He's moved just over the border into Belgium. Closer than Gerard to French cuisine. Bernard’s shareholding in his luxury goods business LVMH Moet Hennessy, is as fussy and layered as a Christian Dior couture gown.

Three dozen men and women work on the top floors of the building, sewing triple-layered hand-painted organza for Middle-Eastern sheikhas and French mademoiselles. Delphine Arnault, the deputy general manager at Dior and daughter of Bernard, had her own wedding dress made there a couple years ago. Her gown took 700 hours to construct, plus 600 more hours of embroidery on the 180 yards of silk organza and 20-foot-long veil.

 And yet this last Sunday in almost every household in France people were in butter. There was a King or Queen on Epiphany. The feast still celebrated - perhaps only gastronomically these days - by the galettes des rois the flaky, buttery almond paste filled pastry that contains a fève - usually a tiny ceramic charm -which if it comes in your slice makes you the King or the Queen and very much in butter for the day. 

Cara - Tuesday


  1. What a post, Cara! At first it made me so very hungry, then I caught a glimpse of Depardieu and decided to hang on to my New Years diet resolution...until I saw the galette and remembered that there's still some of our own in the fridge...an also Greek tradition, but one we celebrate with the French pastry version:) Butter....butter...butter...

  2. I love old cookbooks--tattered and stained and dog-eared. I wonder what will happen in this day of the internet when so many recipes are online? What will happen, too, to mystery novels? I hoard cookbooks, as I do mysteries...

  3. Glad they appreciate butter in Greece Jeff.
    And Khanh I'm guilty of looking up recipes online - a quick glance and scroll - efficient but then I'm mixing and matching and forget which one I looked at. It's that cookbook on the counter I need to anchor me - often wonder the same thing about what will happen to cookbooks.

  4. I love old cookbooks, because I imagine the cook, the occasion, the meals. I like your writing about that. I used to adore Gerard Depardieu, and he has been a marvelous actor, but for him to go to Putin's Russia is a bit dismaying. Is there anyplace where they don't appreciate butter?

  5. Perhaps Gerard will open a French restaurant in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but thank you for the background information, as at first it seemed like a petulant exit for him. Have you ever thought about writing a mystery set in Paris in the '20's, using White Russian characters who fled the Soviet Union in 1917?

  6. Thanks lil and I think the Russians drink tea thru a sugar cube on their tongues - even more calories. loverofwords funny you ask about white russians in exile in paris - that's in the next book!

  7. Great minds think alike! Another character was Natasha Romanov, wife of Michael, who was made Tsar after Nicholas abdicated. Michael was killed; she came to Paris and lived there in poverty until she died of cancer in a charity hospital. I understand that the White Russian community paid for her grave in the White Russian cemetery in Paris. Especially looking forward to your next book!

  8. Love those old cookbook stories and photos, Cara! Not sure what to think of Gerard...Russia???

  9. OtherLisa - the latest Gerard update is that he missed the court date at the Tribunal (for drunk driving on his scooter) because he was in the former Yugoslavia beginning filming on the movie of Dominique Strauss Kahn - w/Gerard in the title role...least that's what the lawyer said.