Celebrating French Bastille Day through Gardening and Cooking (7/14/2020)

This video I did two years ago while we were celebrating French Bastille Day at home. It is a good holiday in terms of cooking country French food. 

At this Bastille Day, the pandemic plague continues to spread unscrupulously, and TV news is still full of horrible and skyward epidemic data. The turbulences have swept the  entire world, especially the recent resurgence in USA makes us nerve-racking. I heard that all Bastille Day parades are cancelled, that will be replaced by a special ceremony held at the famous Place de la Concorde square in Paris. The ceremony will use the traditional flight ritual of the French Air Force to commend French military’s participation during the  anti Covid-19 process and to honor frontline medical workers for their contributions.

In this ruthless reality of “out of control” dilemma,  all agricultural activities, cooking experiments, and being nostalgic are good panaceas for relaxations and boosting positive energy.  It is a process to convert turmoils into tranquilities.

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Our best French friend Charlotte died a few years ago. She was a charming, romantic and fashionable Parisian woman. After so many years, we still miss her very, very much.  It is because of Charlotte that we got the habit to celebrate Bastille Day year after year.  My husband Bill is an excellent chef, he is especially good at French cuisines. He  has made many palatable dishes from Julia Child’s  famous <strong><em>Mastering the Culinary Arts of French Cuisine</em></strong>.  Now I am his apprentice, 3 trips to France made me fall in love with French culture and cooking.  Because the climate of Southern California is very similar to Provence in southern France, the decoration in our Altadenian kitchen has a lot of French country style: colorful pots and pans, flowery plates, humorous  of French country farmers are all hung on the surrounding wall.Our best French friend Charlotte died a few years ago. She was a charming, romantic and fashionable Parisian woman. After so many years, we still miss her very, very much.  It is because of Charlotte that we got the habit to celebrate Bastille Day year after year.  My husband Bill is an excellent chef, he is especially good at French cuisines. He  has made many palatable dishes from Julia Child’s  famous Mastering the Culinary Arts of French Cuisine.  Now I am his apprentice, 3 trips to France made me fall in love with French culture and cooking.  Because the climate of Southern California is very similar to Provence in southern France, the decoration in our Altadenian kitchen has a lot of French country style: colorful pots and pans, flowery plates, humorous  of French country farmers are all hung on the surrounding wall.

My Favorite Salad is Salad Nicoise

Kitchen Goddess (My Little Poem)

In the light of the French Bastille Day,

Summertime, purple lavenders and golden sunflowers sway.

Chopped garlic and shredded onion, fluttering in virescent olive oil in play,

Sautéing chicken segments crispy while sipping a glass of Cabernet.

Green peppers, scarlet tomatoes, yellow zucchinis, violet eggplants, harvested in my vegetable estate,

Stewing into a delicious rainbow like ratatouille francais.

The sound of pots, pans, bowls, silverwares, creating a song of soiree,

The colors of oil, salt, pepper, spice, making a watercolor of Monet.

Bastille Day is the common name given in English-speaking countries to the national day of France, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In French, it is formally called Fête nationale and commonly and legally le 14 juillet .  The French National Day is the anniversary of Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution,as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held throughout France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on 14 July on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests (quoted from Wikipedia)

(On my 50th birthday, Bill gave me this whole set of French La Crusette pots, I like them very much, especially for cooking French food.  I have to be serious about cooking!!!)

Of course, the summer dinners are always the highlight. In memory of Charlotte, we celebrate this French festival year after year. For me, a woman from Shanghai (to be called “Paris of the Orient”), I am very fond of the “French romantic life”. I was born and grew up in the charming French Concession. In my childhood, we moved from quaint “Happy Garden” on Hunan Road to exquisite Alley 31 on Urumqi Road; then from ivy vine covered French garden house on Lane 200 on Yueyang Road to the enchanting Lane 9 on Fenyang Road diagonally across from the campus of Shanghai Conservatory of Music. To me, French culture seems to be innate, because my father was very passionate about French food, he often took me to the “Red House” and “Swan Pavilion” (both were French restaurants) not far from our home) dining. Those French country soup, fried pork chops, potato salad, and chicken noodles etc. were memorable.  When I was studying for my Ph.D. at UCLA, I chose the French as one of my compulsory courses. During our 3 trips to France, I used my broken French to communicate with local people.  I’m particularly interested in the vocabularies related to French food.

Shanghai Red House Restaurant

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">In the past, the summer garden dinners at our home was always attract our neighbors and friends. This year it is only be us plus our golden retriever Gigi.In the past, the summer garden dinners at our home was always attract our neighbors and friends. This year it is only be us plus our golden retriever Gigi.

Speaking of Gigi, our dog ​​is also a French name, from the famous musical “Gigi” (1958).

The story takes place in Paris at the beginning of 20th century. The French girl Gigi lives at home with her grandmother Mamita. Gig is naughty and lively but cynical. Under the guidance of her grandmother, she entered the society circle. She met the single man Gaston.  Gaston is very surprised that Gigi gradually changed from an innocent and casual girl to a graceful lady, and he fell in love with her.  This 1958 film won nine Oscars.

The French people absolutely magnify their 3 meals, treated them as important events of the day in spite of fastidious preparations.  Our party guests and I used to  be watching Bill preparing “Duck a l’orange”,  it was a superb performance. Through the aromas of Grand Marnier, as spectators, our taste buds were stimulated while we were sipping the wine and sharing the conversations.

Under the Grape Vine Covered Pergola

Our Bastille Day’s menu is always a touch of country French that is in accordance with the seasonal vegetables in our garden:

1. Coq au Vin: a popular French country dish, a perfect dish for our taste palate. There are many versions, I have tried many versions, my favorite is Robert Carrier’s “Great Dishes of the World” published in 1967.

Bill was cooking Coq au Vin

My experience is that there must be no rush and sloppiness in French cooking.  Like embroidering, it must be as meticulous as possible. Carrier’s recipe is complicated,  including burning Hennessy etc., but it is absolutely necessary, so that all the all the detail will be lingering on our taste buds.

Ingredients for “Coq au Vin”: chicken pieces, butter, olive oil, bacons, pearl onions, mushrooms, flour, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, Italian parsley, Hennessy, red wine and sugar.

2. Ratatouille: For us in Southern California, this summer dish is a Mother Nature-sending gift. I have to say that almost all the vegetables and herbs are in are from my vegetable garden. Everything is in season.  In addition, it is also an ideal vegetarian dish. We serve it in room temperature.

After trying different recipes many times, my favorite  recipe comes from The Silver Palate Good Times Cook Book written by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, published in 1985.

Ingredients for Ratatouille: half cup of olive oil, 1 onion, 6 cloves of garlic, 1 large eggplant, 1 red bell pepper, 1 green pepper, 4 chili peppers, 2 yellow curved neck summer squashes, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, 24 cherry tomatoes and coriander leaves.

On medium heat, pour olive oil and sauté chopped onions for 10 minutes.

Then add the chopped garlic and stir-fry for 5 minutes, add the cut eggplant and stir-fry for 15 minutes.

Reduce to medium-low heat and add red bell pepper, green pepper, chili peppers, yellow curved neck summer squashes, oregano, cumin and stir-fry for 25 minutes.

Add the entire 24 cherry tomatoes to the pan and stir-fry for 10 minutes

Finally, decorate the dish with coriander leaves.

The above two popular country French dishes on French baguettes are great! Charlotte once told us if guests wiped his (her) dinner plate with baguettes, it would be a compliment to the host.

3. Lemon tart

(We Have Hundreds of Lemons on Our Tree)

Maybe due to Covid-19, our fruit trees are disastrous this  summer except for the lemon tree which is really fruitful. It is  perfect to make a lemon tart. This recipe, I googled from William Sonoma, is cool, elegant, moisturizing and refreshing.

Ingredients:

1 tart platter at room temperature

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

5 eggs

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons (3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Whipped cream

Engaging in French cooking is an exquisite experience, every French meal is a festive activity itself, allowing people enjoy the art of gastronomy of eating and drinking.   Thus friendship and affection are strengthened through beautiful meals.  It is also fascinating to discover the food culture geographically and seasonally. I call French meal is a multi-movement symphony: 1) Hors d’oeuvres and cocktails; 2) Soup, salad and bread); 3) Main course (Meat, [or poultry,  or seafood] starches and vegetables); 4) Varieties of cheeses and grapes; 5) Dessert and coffee; 6) After-dinner liqueurs.

(French cheese, more than 200 kinds, taken in Lyon, France)

After dinner, we sat in the garden. The persimmon-colored sunset disappeared in the west. The breeze was gently blowing.  The mixed fragrance of lavenders, basils, corianders, and rosemaries, mints, etc were staggering, filled the air, we were sipping Grand Marnier…Although only us and Gigi this year, but the French romantic spirit lives. The roses in the summer are still blossoming like crazy, the fireflies are still flickering sweet messages of teaser, the starry night sky is still blinking with “eyes” connected to our hearts, we are lying on our floating “boats” in the swimming pool, carefree, reminiscing good memories, contemplating with wild imaginations, yearning for the arrival of miracles… 

The Roses in Our Garden
<p class="has-text-align-center has-huge-font-size" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><strong><span class="uppercase"><span style="color:#ea0a28;" class="has-inline-color">Bonne fête de la bastille!</span></span></strong>Bonne fête de la bastille!

Published by Joan Huang

I'm a freelance composer living in bucolic Altadena, the suburb of Los Angeles. Besides music making, I love cooking, drinking wines with friends, gardening, hiking and traveling.

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