Monday, December 23, 2013

American Pie

Tomorrow night there will be two dozen or so people around the table for le Réveillon, the traditional feast on the night before Christmas. It'll be a late night, though not as late as it would be if we were really being traditional, and going to midnight mass before eating. Some of the family will be going to church around 7pm, and others will go on the 25th, and I may join one or the other group, especially if the mass is in Béarnais. But today it was all about the baking, as I wanted to (generously) pitch in with my share of food for the feast, and (selfishly) ensure that something there would be gluten-free, especially when it came to the appetizers and desserts. I made a sweet-potato pie with a crushed spéculoos crust; the cookies are a little like graham crackers, so I thought it would work. Unfortunately the oven was hotter than the temperature dial indicated, and the pie and crust got a bit burned, though I'm hoping it's the burnt-sugar sort of burned from the cookies, and not an inedible bitterness. I have no idea what it's going to taste like, but it smelled really good, mostly from the vanilla beans I was scraping into the filling. Christine, the woman from whom I'm renting a room in Gan, recently came back from her vacation in La Réunion with handfuls of beans, and gifted me with some. I don't often bake, so was glad to have an opportunity to use them right away.

I put vanilla in the walnut pie as well. This is a take on the pecan pie of my grandmother Farquhar's southern heritage, using local walnuts instead, and maple syrup imported from Canada, so it was still sort of French, right? The crust on this one was another experiment, using a buckwheat bread mix and vegan margarine and a little bit of sugar. It's very crumbly, but I tasted a broken bit and it's pretty good. No idea if it will hold together in the slicing, but oh well. The cooled pies are sitting on the table, and I'll take them over tomorrow when we go to open up the store for any last-minute clients in the morning.

In the afternoon, I'll pipe the filling into the egg halves for a French version of my grandmother McHugh's deviled eggs, always a part of family celebrations in Indiana. I decided to use quail eggs because they're more of an amuse-bouche size, and because I didn't know if regular eggs would be appealing. Deviled eggs aren't completely unknown in France, but I don't think I've seen them more than once in restaurants. Peeling four dozen hard-boiled quail eggs is a fiddly business, and a reminder of why I don't want to make a career out of being a caterer. Once in a while is fine, but there's a reason for line cooks and sous-chefs. Chives, cornichons, mustard, mayonnaise, and a little bit of salt; I'll take the rest of the chives and a half a lemon with me for last-minute seasoning.

My other offering is marinated dried olives, with garlic and paprika, lemon slices and thyme and oregano. I'll take a gluten-free baguette along in case there is anything interesting to smear on it, and of course it will come in handy to swipe clean my plate in between courses. Dinner will probably start around 9pm or even later, but I plan on drinking a cup of coffee after a very light lunch to help me stay awake ...

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