If We Are What We Eat

I confessed to a good friend of mine just yesterday that I felt stuck, lacking direction and waiting rather impatiently for my personal fog to clear. She gave me the best advice a girl could give: to enjoy the fog and find my inspiration in it, to “dwell on the fleeting, nonsensical things” that emerge. At a time of year when we are mad to locate definition, precision, a clear way forward, these words were pure liberation to me. So I share them with you now, in the event that you too are feeling in limbo. (Thanks from the bottom of my heart, DD.)

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So, into the fog we march. No world problems solved. No career leaps choreographed. No particularly clear sense of what lies ahead. But I do know what our last meal of 2014 will consist of, and two main elements are just light and fluffy enough to fill the gaps here in my last post of the year. In Proustian fashion, though, I have wonder if food, laden as it is with associations, memories, history and emotion, can ever really be that light and fluffy.

The two ethereal but not necessarily superficial foods in question are GOUGÈRES and MERINGUES. I’m sure you know about meringue. It’s been sitting on top of pies since forever. But here in France, they are the way my mother used to make them. Big, verging on monumental. Simple (why should they be more complicated). And perfect. You can team them up with fruit, chocolate or—most decadently, in my book—whipped cream, but being a meringue-lover-slash-fiend usually don’t bother. I just crack them apart and eat them shamelessly, crumbs falling where they may, while I lose myself in what I consider to be one of the culinary wonders of the world.

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I’m getting very ahead of myself: the meringues come after dinner. Before dinner, we will have champagne and gougères, lovely light…gee, what are they exactly? They’re not bread. They’re not cakes. They’re not muffins or custards or soufflés. Yes, here we go: they are puff pastries. Savory—as opposed to sweet—puff pastries that hide bits of gruyère cheese inside their lofty interiors. And what makes them lofty? Well, once again, I suppose it’s the eggs. We’re talking culinary transformation once again. Edible miracles.

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Which brings me to a point I didn’t realize I had. What better to eat on the last night of the year than foods which symbolize and embody transformation? So I’ll have faith in universal possibility—no, probability—of change, enjoy my New Year’s yummies, and wish for us all a New Year of new experiences, new understanding, and new versions of our selves. Deliciously, mysteriously and beautifully transformed.

If you’re interested in giving these treats a try, here are a couple easy to follow English-language recipes for GOUGÈRES (Alain Ducasse) and MERINGUES (Nigel Slater).

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14 Responses to If We Are What We Eat

  1. dayphoto says:

    Oh, YUMMM! I was just thinking I needed to go start lunch and here was this outstanding photography of light and airy deliciousness!

    Happy New Year My Friend!

    It will be exciting to see what 2015 has in store for us, won’t it?

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com/?s=The+Adventures+of+Fuzzy+and+Boomer&submit=Search
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

  2. Debra Kolkka says:

    Here’s to a delicious 2015.

  3. Cook-Tench says:

    Charlotte, I’ve never seen pictures that better sum up the magic of these treats. They also happen to be two of my daughter Ryan’s very favorite things to make. This Christmas, she made a Pavlova – Chocolate meringue, whipped cream and a raspberry sauce with fresh berries on top. Now, if we’d only had your photographic skill and way with words we might have captured its real essence. Thanks for the lovely thoughts, pictures, and memories. Happy New Year,
    Diane

    • you’re too kind. I love pavlova…but I’m no good at the meringue myself…when I make them they turn out heavy and sticky. The baker here in France tells me I don’t leave them in the oven long enough. As for being able to capture the essence, eating is much better than photographing. I’m sure you’re capturing it just fine!

  4. Gerlinde says:

    Here in Germany the Gougères are called Windbeutel (bags of wind). My mom used to make them for the Sunday afternoon coffee. Filled with whipcream and dusted with powdered sugar they were a delicious treat.
    Thank you for this beautiful post because I’m feeling very much lost and in limbo.

  5. debbibaron says:

    Gougères from Bourgogne are without a doubt the best thin gto come out of that part of the country. Right next to the wines and the cheese – Epoisse . They are my favourite thing and for some reason, they are never as good anywhere else.

    • I’m chuckling a bit on reading this. Bourgogne is so proud of its cuisine, as you know, but we have over the years had increasing difficulty with it. It’s just not personally sustainable to eat like that (you know, the paté, the jambon persillé, the sauces, the BUTTER, my God, the BUTTER…) Like most Italians we travel with pasta and rice and sometimes even crates of veg. It’s taken us years to figure out how we can eat here and feel healthy. But the gougères are just too yummy. And as for Epoisse (the program keeps automatically changing the spelling of these foreign words, so forgive me if they get published incorrectly), it is a favorite, though we did get through Christmas without it. One year, many years ago, my daughter ate an indecent ton of Epoisse when no one was looking, got sick and seems to have been lactose intolerant ever since. I say, °At least she went out on something divine!°

      • debbibaron says:

        Oh my gosh! An époisse overdose – so easy to do I am afraid, but a divine way to go if you gotta do it! But you are right, if one wants to eat healthy here, you have to work on it. I noticed when I was in Courchamp near St Florentine at Xmas, in the marché you really had to search for good produce and that is right in the heart of country! At least here in Paris it is not too hard and you can balance yourself. Albeit, in my refrigerator right now resides 10 different cheeses,the remains of a boeuf bourgingnon, a liver paté (sorry the hand made foie gras terrine went a long time ago!), two different kinds of butter, two bagettes, two bottles of champagne and a nice white from Bourgogne, oh and a very small bag of the end of my cavalo nero just to be on the healthy side! Bonne Année

  6. thank God for the cavolo nero! Very funny and fun inventory. But it all spells delicious and happy living, Debbi, and I suspect that’s healthier than years of stingy, abstemious, calorie-free existing, no? I’m sort of banking on it.

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