Friday, December 26, 2008

Days of Foie Gras, Fromage, Champagne...and Pirags!

I have officially eaten foie gras five days in a row. The first two times were courtesy of Ben’s mother, served traditional Alsatian Holiday style, with gelée and regional Pain d’épices; there was also year-round white Pain Grillé. The third, served again Holiday style, kicked-off Christmas Eve dinner. This meal lasted over six hours, five succulent courses, four types of wine--- welcoming and au revoir champagne not included--- three joke swapping male relatives, two brothers with too much distance in between, and one tiniest man, crying, with a broken arm. The fourth and fifth days featured Jean-Marie, Ben’s father’s, handiwork. Infused with cognac and with dried fruit creating a line of demarcation between that made from a goose liver and that from a duck’s, my taste buds told me that the duck left the party with the greater hangover.

Then there’s every home that has welcomed us with Champagne, or the more traditional Crémant d’Alsace, each Apèro Pour prefaced with a, “Quelq’un veut boire un petit Insert the name of the beverage?” I love it, “Would anyone care to drink a little one of Insert the name of the beverage?” Then, when another bottle has been opened after the first one has been emptied, “Quelq’un veut un petit schluk?” or “anyone care for one last drop?”

Finally, on Christmas Eve, I ate the best cheese of my life, a Brie with Marscapone and truffles. This was one of fifteen types of cheese served on three platters and explained by Ben’s uncle who is a cheese exporter in the detail to which I have only ever been privée at Manhattan's finest restaurants. Other favorite slices on my Christmas Eve plate were a melt-on-the tongue regional tradition, the soft, cow’s milk Muenster, and a Tome de Savoie, a proud, well-postured, semi-hard, Sheep’s milk enrobed in an ashy crust. And even after Christmas Day venison with a sauce of trompettes de la mort, and sides of, first, the savory mushroom trio, chanterelles d’automnes, chanterelles, and les cépes-tête-de-negre, then steamed artichokes and the Alsatian traditional sweet-spiced red cabbage of before, I still so enjoyed a perfectly, creamy-salty Roquefort. With a mouthful of pain de campagne, I whispered to Ben that I could be persuaded to consume the white and black-and-blue block in its delectable entirety, were it not that I would look absolutely ridiculous and my stomach would ache.

Somehow, whilst indulging in all of these French pleasures, I found the time to introduce my hosts to a Latvian one: Pirags. Pirags are a crescent-shaped hors d'oeuvres filled with ham, a healthy serving of chopped onions and bacon, wrapped in a cardamon-spiced dough. In the Land of Meat, I was finally able to prepare them as my great-great grandmother's cookbook directs: with real speck, a meat resembling bacon, with a bit stronger flavor and wrapped in some spices that neither Ben nor I could identify. It must be something in dough, because this Pirag-making session, too, became a family-affair: Jean-Paul dug the huge dough pot out of the basement, Ben cut cubes from the rectangular block of speck, skillfully removing the too-chewy fat, Nicole patiently helped me re-do the dough when it failed to rise the first time with chemical yeast, and even Hervé, half-awake from his three hour nap on the couch, too played a part and shaped a few little half moons. I was asked to translate the recipe back from American to European measurements by more than one satisfied relative.

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