Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clafoutis Comes from Clafir

I'm obsessed with feeding people.

Let me back-track a little: what I'm really obsessed with is food. I love food. I love eating it. I love preparing it. I always feel a little annoyed when I get food that's been carelessly prepared. I believe the act of cooking should be truly a labor of love and attentiveness - love of the material, the work, and the people who'll be receiving the fruits of one's labors.

I feel the same way about writing and about medicine. Every little object or act matters. We're pouring out of ourselves to others; such work requires meticulous attention to detail and the highest of standards.

We have a young guest in our home this month - the fourteen-year-old son of family friends - who's visiting from France. I want all my guests to eat well, but I especially want our borrowed children to be well-fed. But how to do this for someone who comes from the world center of good eating? Where cattle are grass-fed, dairy is rich and creamy even at 2%, and even an "ordinary" loaf of bread is simply incomparable? (Not to mention, where his mom is an amazing cook, to boot?)

I wandered down the grocery aisles here with despair in anticipation of his arrival. How to offer a sample of American life without putting crap on the table? All of a sudden the bread aisle embarrassed me. The dairy section embarrassed me. The boxes and boxes of processed food embarrassed me.

I was concerned, too, about his metabolic needs. He's athletic, taller than my husband, still growing, thin as a rail. You know the type. An active teenager who can eat mountains of food without gaining an ounce and is perfectly capable of eating more an hour later. How I envy these young people their physiology!

I guess I needn't have worried. I've been cooking what I ordinarily cook every day for my family, and we've eaten well. It helps that this lovely young man is adaptable, easy-going, sweet, well-mannered, helpful, and gracious. We've had an abundance of seasonal fruits, vegetables, and other foods - lots of corn-on-the-cob (I know, I know, corn can be evil, but it was something I missed while I was in France recently, and the local farmers are growing them sweet this summer!); tomatoes (with fresh mozzarella); zucchini (soufflé and sautéed), and some really American stuff, like chicken pot pie, apple pie, homemade cole slaw, and taco salad with bison (this, coincidentally, on the day he sat watching our DVD of Dances with Wolves...).
We've had balsamic chicken, broiled flank steak with lime juice and cumin, seafood pasta with shallots. For dessert we've taken advantage not only of the yummy frozen treats from Trader Joe's but also of the seasonal berries and cherries galore (both fresh and, thanks to my friend KP's recipe, transformed into a delicious blueberry cake similar to this plum torte, and a cherry clafoutis from Julia Child's recipe).

I've also thrown in some Filipino food, something I don't often do even for my own family (not sure why, really). I've learned in the process that our signature dish, "Adobo," derives its name from a medieval French term, adouber: to dress a knight. But of course!

I made an easy variation of Adobo Sa Gata, marinated chicken and/or pork with coconut milk (recipe adapted from the book Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine by Barretto et al.):

Adobong Manok at Baboy Sa Gata

Marinate 2 lbs cubed meat (chicken or pork or both) in the following for about 30 minutes:
  • 1/2 c white vinegar
  • 8 crushed garlic cloves (or more - use the whole head if you want)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • optional: 1-2 Tb soy sauce (I didn't use this)

Remove meat from marinade and brown on all sides in a small amount of hot oil (1 Tb or less).
Add marinade (minus the bay leaves) plus contents of one 13.5-oz can of coconut milk (the Thai kind is best).
Bring to a boil, then simmer 20 minutes.
If sauce is too tart, can cut it with 1 tsp sugar.

Serve over rice. [My favorite way to make rice: In a large pot, mix two cups of rice (Nishiki or Kokuho Rose brand) with 3/4 tsp salt and enough olive oil to coat (about two "glugs" from the bottle); pour in four cups of water and stir; bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on very low heat till all water is absorbed.]

Eating is in many ways such an ordinary part of daily life, but it has such power. It nourishes us and gives us energy. It brings people together. It calls us to be grateful for simple pleasures, for abundant graces. It sustains our lives. The French (actually, occitan) word clafir, to fill up, sums up its blessing: what greater contentment is there than a life filled with peaceful shared moments, good food, great company, loving hands, hearts that care for you, a home in which to rest and have the freedom to be oneself?


Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

Wonderful post!

We too recently had a visitor from Europe, and I also wondered how to show him American food and still keep it healthy. The farmer's market was my inspiration for many meals. Yes, he had some fries and barbecue, and a hot dog at the ball game, but the rest was our usual home cooking, which is almost always healthy.

T. said...

I know just what you mean - we've had the occasional indulgence in the foot-long sub, the massive pizza lunch, the burger at the sports bar, but for the most part it's been home fare.

It's been a nice reminder for me that simplest is bestest! :)

Brian said...

Hey T,
Where did you ever find clafir? It's a verb not in French but in limousin, a dialect of the non-French language (still sometimes) spoken in southern France, known generally as occitan. The best known of the dialects is Provençal, the language of the troubadours in its medieval version. Dumas' Three Musketeers spoke gascon, another such dialect. There are many others. Occitan has a very rich vocabulary for daily items—many different words for all sorts of pots or pans, for example, to remain in the current topic area—, much of which is comparatively impoverished in 'standard French', i.e. that acceptable in proper company in the Paris area. Some words, like clafoutis (but not clafir), have made their way into standard French.
BTW, I have been known to make a mean clafoutis myself, using a family recipe for crêpe-like Finnish pancakes known as lettuja as the batter, then filling it with slices of apple, peaches, or whatever other fruit is available. You have probably sampled some. If not, remind me to make it again, it has been a while.

T. said...

OCCITAN! That was it. I couldn't remember. I knew it started with an "o."

In any case, a bunch of "history of cooking" posts I've seen in both English and French point to "clafir" as the origin of the word "clafoutis."

Looking forward to trying yours!

Dragonfly said...

I agree about the liking to feed people and the love of food. It is a source of great joy.

Isabelle said...

You are amazing! Cooking all this great food for your young French visitor... Can I take his place ;)

When we visit my in-laws, they never cook for us, and we always end up eating sandwiches, ordering pizzas or eating out (big sigh)...

Julia said...

Corn is evil?? Sweet, fresh, right off the corn? How can that possible be evil??

T. said...

Oh, I totally agree it's wonderful when it's sweet, fresh, right off the cob! But the guilty doctor in me that's supposed to be "eating healthy" and encouraging that in otehrs knows it's considered the worst of all grains in terms of omega-6 to omega-3 ratio / nutritional value / fungal contamination, etc. Yet I love it so...