Thursday, November 10, 2005

in which there is discussion of anthrocyanin, the tribulations of air travel, and Onion Recipes

The best part of visiting the East Coast of the US for a few days is the almost edibly beautiful fall colors against (just a few hours later, in the afternoon) skies so blue they resurrect the old meaning of gay. And suggest larks. Even after a freakishly mild November, so much brighter and more exhilerating than old europe; hooray for the chemistry of living colors: green (chlorophyll), yellow (carotene), red (anthrocyanin).
The conference went well -- so well that I wish I could give you the details without hopelessly revealing who, where, what. No red nametags in sight, or at least in my line of vision. And it was good: I was in a seminar-style panel with mostly asst. profs, some of whom had solid and fascinating arguments but some reassuringly did not -- were in fact easy to see through despite the talkers being assertive. It's not schadenfreude -- just the relief of seeing that I really was in the right place, despite being a grad student -- and at a conference where the chair of my department was actually on a panel too, the chair of a related major department in attendance, and I had to make small talk with both of them!

There was of course the "Welcome back to France " experience on Air France to deal with. I alternate between loving the perks of A.F. transatlantic service and getting scarred by the steward/esses -- scarred I say. On the way over, my vegetarian meal arrived (although it was interpreted as "vegan," so lots of soy yogurt and odd ingredients, but that's perfectly okay). However, it was accompanied with a sarcastic remark and raised eyebrow from the stewardess (who was beautiful, but apparently bitter) because I'd finished -my meal before the regular meal was served - because, you know, they served my meal 20 minutes before the other meals and, call me crazy, eating IS what i usually do with meals. There may be other options but personally I get hungry and yes, indeed, I do EAT my food. On the way back to Paris, I was less lucky. The vegetarian meal order mysteriously disappeared. After explaining several times that I did order my meal in advance -- NO I REALLY DID, you can ask a third time but despite the obvious suspicion (wtf?!) I really am not lying on this point -- my waiter kindly brought me a mishmash of items from the other trays consisting of: naan bread, a roll, butter, canned pineapple, and two plates of salad. Which was great of him. After I pointed out that vegetarian means "not meat", he even brought me the yogurt and poppseed cake everybody else was having and I felt less like a starved rabbit (how much shaved carrot can a girl take?). But when I carried my trash back to the steward work area myself because I had gotten my meal so much later than everyone else, and politely asked a different stewardess if there was a garbage can I could deposit these things into -- thinking I was doing something nice by taking care of it myself -- she lit into me! My god. What was I doing trying to throw those things away when clearly half of them should be recycled - and WHY was I not finished when the stewards came around SEVERAL TIMES for trash, and what, WHAT, how could I have correctly ordered a meal and not had it delivered! Why didn't I confirm the vegetarian meal a second time for the return leg of the flight -- how foolish to think that ordering it in advance was enough -- what kind of fool doesn't know you have to return for the return leg of the flight too, specially and at LEAST 48 hours in advance?? Passengers order these meals and change their minds and don't want them anymore (insert large disdainful sneer here) -- because don't you know medical conditions and religious issues FREQUENTLY disappear on return legs of flights -- and then the meals are WASTED, and it costs Air France LOTS OF MONEY -- lots more than all those tickets that angry customers stop buying from Air France with the dear hope that you will lose your job because of it, I wanted to add, but she had already stalked to the back of the cabin and turned her back to me after the last sally. And can I please note, please, that all I did was smile at her, holding my trash, and ask: "où est la poubelle?"

So here I am, an unregenerate foreigner WHO WON'T EAT MEAT in France again (I think the vegetarian business is somehow personally offensive to Frenchpeople, in ways I will never fully understand.) [(And I note that it's just a personal thing, with no reference to anyone else's eating habits, done for health and ecological, not bleeding heart, reasons: so that I am happy to eat rabbits or snails or squid or most fish, anything that is not endangered or (over)farmed -- including venison -- Bambi!).] On a happier note despite the pleasures of visiting friends it is lovely to be in my own apartment again, where I can eat and nap and be jetlagged however I want and which is happily NOT burned down by the rioters, although apparently they got very close a few days ago when they ventured into the center of Paris -- 4 blocks to the north and also a second site a few blocks to the west, in the Marais. Tomorrow in daylight will be plenty of time to reconnoiter -- as well as to consider what it means that Villepin has invoked the law of 1955 from the time of the Algerian uprisings and troubles to impose curfews on the banlieues. On French t.v., it is refreshingly non-racist sounding, however: all the announcers seem to be worred about les jeunes and ways to occupy their spare time or educate them so they have plans and activities and (apparently) no time for Rage.
Also the onions in my kitchen have sprouted in my absence and are so big they are rivaling my actual plants. It is time to eat onions.

Onion Toast

  • 1 TB organic extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp clover honey
  • 1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp ground red pepper or African Bird Pepper if you like it hotter
  • 21/2 lb onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • favorite bread, sliced thin

In a large, non-stick skillet, over medium heat, combine oil, honey, soy sauce and pepper. Add onions and stir. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in vinegar and thyme. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes until the onions are very soft and thick. While onions are cooking, place the bread slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes on each side. Spread slices with warm onion mixture.


(Serves 6)
4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 Tbs. butter
6 cups rich beef broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine or Vermouth (optional)
Pinch of powdered thyme (optional)
2 hard rolls
Grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a large pot with a cover. Slice onions and saute until golden. Pour beef broth over cooked onions. Add seasonings and wine. Simmer for 15 minutes, covered.

Pour soup into individual earthenware bowls or a large earthen casserole. Slice rolls and toast. Sprinkle slices with Parmesan and float them on top of the soup. Slide casserole or bowls under broiler about 4 inches from heat and broil until cheese turns brown. Remove and serve immediately.


1 pound shallots (about 12 small ones)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons brown sugar

Salt and pepper

Peel the shallots and slice them thinly. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the shallots and stir to coat. Reduce heat to low, add in the balsamic vinegar and sugar, season with salt and pepper, and stir again.

Cover and cook over low heat until the shallots are very soft, about an hour and a half, stirring from time to time. If the mixture starts to dry out or stick to the pan, add in a touch of water. When the shallots are soft, taste the confit and adjust the seasoning. Let cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze.

Serve as an accompaniment to cheese, grilled fish or meat, add to sandwiches, mix into a vinaigrette, or spread on little toasts with a bit of smoked ham.


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