Monday, October 29, 2007
Perhaps it is the pumpkin colored roses that came in from the marché yesterday...
...or the pile of golden leaves gathering at the base of the trees at Parc de la Torse...
...or the walk through the countryside with Bodhi and a friend yesterday after the Mistral had blown through, clearing everything out and leaving behind the blue skies for which Provence is so well-known.
(By the way, hunting season has begun...fortunately they are looking for sangliers, or wild boar, not little white, fluffy puppies!)
(Note to self: Come back here with a pique-nique that includes a thermos full of hot soup!)
Or perhaps it is simply that the market is filled with so many different varieties of squash at this time of year that seduce me with their depth of color and promise of rich and hearty taste – soul soothing as well as providing of a good dose of anti-oxidants!
Whatever it was, there I stood waiting my turn for a big hunk o' punkin' while the vendor waited on another woman from my neighborhood selecting a handful of shallots. As my neighbor waited for change, she quickly rattled off her recipe for soup de potiron (or pumpkin soup): shallots, cooked in butter and olive oil until translucent, a press of garlic, the pumpkin hunk, having been baked ‘til soft, just a bit of water, bring to a boil, blend ‘til smooth and add a grind of nutmeg. At the last minute add a couple of soup spoons of crème fraiche and voila! La Soupe de Potiron! ("If it gets too thin, throw in a few potatoes," she added with a lovely smile.)
I find that the French are very generous with their suggestions. In this case, as in countless other cases in which I very much appreciate the suggestion being offered, it was a great tip on just the recipe that I was preparing to post for Monday. But I must admit that sometimes there are suggestions that are rather puzzling and take me quite by surprise. For example, on one of our extremely hot days of summer, I was out with Bodhi on a Saturday morning. The only way to get from chez moi to his sister’s house for a playdate was through the grand marché which is pretty packed on a beautiful Saturday morning in the summer. We started out on foot together but it was soon quite clear that he was way to low to the ground to be down there all my himself, invisible to the crowds. Just as I was bending down to scoop him up, a woman passing by very firmly told me that I must carry him through the market, he is too small to be walking on his own in such a crowd. I thanked her and quickly reassured her that I was just intending to do exactly that. She nodded, seeming content that she had been heard, and continued along her way (hopefully being as watchful of all the other dogs who were trying to navigate the market with their owners on foot!)
As I reached the other end of the marché and took a couple of steps beyond the edge of the undulating crowd to put Bodhi down, another woman took it upon herself to instruct me not to be carrying my dog in such heat! “He is too hot! Put him down! You must let him walk freely in this heat!” She sniffed and turned on her heel to continue along her way (hopefully nodding in approval at all of those owners who were putting their dogs’ lives at risk by making them walk through the market as she found her way to the other end!) This just scratches the surface of unsolicited suggestions I’ve received.
While I try to maintain a consistent sensitivity to cultural differences and not simply view or measure the world through my foreign sensibilities, I find some of these experiences really baffling. For instance, it would seem that my suggestions may not be so welcomed: while buying a gift for a baby of a friend in the US, the fellow who owns the little boutique with cool baby stuff in my ‘hood was wrapping up the little something I had purchased. He does a beautiful job, complete with a creative box, fancy cellophane and a little wooden charm hot-glued to the beribboned final result. In this case, I made the fatal mistake of asking if he had taken the price tag off. Fortunately he had finished the wrapping job but made it clear that he was offended by my even asking such a thing. (Okay...it was a silly question reflecting my own occasional absent-mindedness, I'll grant you...but even so...)
"Where are you from?", he queried.
"California," I replied tentatively, having seen the error of my ways.
“And do they leave the prices on in California?!” he asked in faux amazement.
Confirming my error in judgement, we completed the rest of the transaction in awkward silence. I would prove to be too naïve to know better than to ever go into his establishment again.
The next baby came along and I went in to get another gift. I was my friendly self willing to “kiss and make up” but he appeared to be rather cool toward me...okay, make that downright teeth-chatteringly chilly! In my attempt to overlook the dynamic, I made my selection and told him, just like before, that it was a gift.
I have no idea how he managed to pull this next trick off because the only thing I noticed that was different from last time was that there was a bit less care taken with that cellophane wrapping and he put a piece of scotch-tape to affix the wooden charm to the finished package. Beyond his truly icy treatment and the scotch tape job, I really didn’t give it another thought.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived in the US and delivered that baby gift to the new mother, who opened it immediately, excited to be receiving something kind of cool from France. The opened box revealed that the little stuffed toy had had the ribbon around its neck untied and left rumpled and it had been placed completely askew in the box, looking as though it had been jammed into a box in which it had never belonged in the first place. That same fellow now turns his back on me as I pass his shop in the street. This is a complete mystery to me as I find it difficult to believe it’s all about my helpful suggestion...it would seem that helpful suggestions happen all the time in these parts!
Mysteries of comportment (that still call for some deep breathing on my part) aside, I have to say that these scratchy experiences are far out-numbered by those like the recipe shared freely in a brief shared moment by my gentle neighbor. I took her suggestions to heart and blended her version with a favorite pumpkin soup recipe that I’ve pulled out every fall when prompted by such things as leaves changing color and crisp walks in the countryside. I like to think of it as an expample of what is possible when we remain open to another culture and yet still find a way to honor our own. Try hers...or the California Girl's southwestern version...or give your own blend a whirl.
Pumpkin Soup with Lime-Ginger Cream
Adapted from Southwest the Beautiful Cookbook by Barbara Pool Fenzl
1/4 cup (2 oz./60g) unsalted butter
2 cups (10 oz./315g) finely chopped onions
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/3 cups (11 oz./330ml) milk
3 cups (24 fl.oz/750ml) pumpkin purée
6 cups (48 oz./1.5 l) chicken stock(preferably homemade)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup (4 oz./125 g) crème fraiche (or sour cream)
2 tablespoons grated lime zest, from non-treated limes
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat; add the onions and slowly sauté until translucent. Stir in the cayenne and transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender. Add the milk and pumpkin and process until smooth. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and whisk in the chicken stock. Over medium-high heat, bring the soup to a simmer. Add salt and pepper.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook the lime juice and grated ginger together for 2 minutes. Strain into a medium bowl, discard the ginger and whisk the remaining liquid with the sour cream.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle a spoonful of the lime-sour cream mixture to decorate the bowls before serving. Sprinkle with lime zest.