I was to meet my daughter, Hannah, in London where she was taking dreamy courses like “The British Museum,” “Shakespeare,” and “Contemporary Drama” at U. C. Berkeley’s campus abroad. We were to find each other outside the Tube stop at Leicester Square and, as I approached the station, I began to look around. When she left home she’d been dressed in her uniform of jeans, polo shirt, sweatshirt, and sneakers. But the young woman I saw from a distance was wearing boots, a long black skirt, and a stylish, close-fitting, suede jacket. Hannah? I wondered.
“Hannah?” I called. She turned around–her thin golden earrings almost grazing the tops of her shoulders.
“Mom!” We moved toward each other and entered into an extended hug.
“So good to see you, Bunny!”
“Good to see you too, Mom.”
“You look great. You’ve changed your style.”
“Yes,” she blushed a little, “it’s London. Listen, Mom, come meet my flat-mates. We can get on the Tube here and get off at Holborn and then walk. It’s close.” She guided me into the Tube stop, showed me where to buy a ticket and insert it, took my arm and drew me toward the tunnel for trains going north. She seemed to know every stop on every line, and she’d only been here two months.
“How did the dinner go?” I asked, as we swayed on the Tube.
She’d e-mailed me a month before asking about my favorite recipe for coq au vin, and I’d sent her the one from Bistro Jeanty because the cocoa in it gave the dish a nice, full flavor. When she’d left in August, she hadn’t cared much for coq au vin or for almost anything French I’d ever made. Since childhood, to my culinary frustration, she’d been a pasta and butter or spaghetti and meat sauce sort of girl.
“The coq turned out great,” she said “but when I tried to light the cognac, it wouldn’t burn and I had to fish one of the matches out of the pot.” After dining on the coq, Hannah’s roommates had informally appointed her chief cook in the apartment, and the six of them had begun hosting regular dinner parties for their friends–tagliatella with porcini mushrooms and white wine and cream sauce, marinated salmon served on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes, untold dozens of cookies, even apple and pecan pies. Since the kitchen had no rolling pin, Hannah had been using a bottle of gin covered in plastic wrap to make the crusts. And she’d been baking the pies in shallow bowls because the kitchen also lacked proper tins. One of her roommates had begun to call her “Mama.”
After a week of dinners and plays with Hannah, my friend Mark and I traveled to Paris for a few days. Hannah and her friend Cally had already arranged a weekend visit of their own, so Mark and I decided to meet them at their Paris hostel and take them out for a final dinner. On Saturday in the lengthening shadows of the late afternoon Mark and I walk toward the “Young and Happy Hostel” on Rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest, most narrow streets in Paris–a hive of shops and outdoor markets, with orange, green, and blue awnings, mounds of oranges and lemons, boxes of dusky grapes, mountains of peppers in red, green, and yellow.
The flower stand was a meadow of pink and lavender, and as we threaded our way through the crowd, the smells of chocolate, pastry, and cheese married each other in the air. We passed a man sitting quietly at a table, watching the shoppers go by, and there she was, quite unexpectedly, walking down the street in our direction.
“Amazing, here you are on the streets of Paris!” Suddenly, Paris really did feel like the most exciting city in the world and also, somehow, like home.
“Mom, I need some boots,” she said, showing me the soles of the run-down pair she was wearing, and so we went into a nearby shop where Hannah surveyed the stock with a practiced eye. After some deliberation she picked out a pair of black, European-looking boots with a fashionably flat heel. We walked to the hostel, picked up Cally, and the then four of us turned left down a small lane. Instantly, since this was Paris after all, we found a bistro with white table cloths and rose place mats, where the smell of roasting lamb passed over us like a savory cloud. We settled at an outside table, received our menus, and I began to translate for Hannah and her friend.
“’Gigot De Pre-Sale Roti’–that’s roast leg of lamb.”
“Mom, you speak French?” She was amazed by my seeming cultural capital.
“No, Bun, I’ve cooked through Julia Child and can read a menu.”
She and Cally ordered mozzarella and tomato salad followed by steak frites. Mark wanted goat cheese salad and cassoulet. I went for the escargot and lamb.
“Want to try a snail,” I asked Hannah when they came, sizzling in their pan. The taste was a sensuous meld of garlic, parsley, shallot, European butter, and something sweet. She looked doubtful but said “Okay.” I handed her the fork and she bit off the tiniest piece she could. “Yum!” She popped the rest of the escargot into her mouth.
I looked at her and tried to take her in. She was nineteen. She had curly brown hair, long brows, and large blue eyes. She was lovely, and, somehow, she’d arrived. The girl in sweatshirts and sneakers who barely touched my beef bourguignon was now wearing fitted jackets and European boots; she was cooking coq au vin and eating escargot. I couldn’t help feeling some pleasure in these changes, but I understood “it’s London.” Her very distance from me had freed her for this transformation.
Bistro Jeanty’s* Coq au Vin
(Adapted with Permission from Bistro Jeanty as printed in the San Francisco Chronicle)
Be sure to marinate the chicken overnight and use that cocoa! Although leftovers are good, I find the coq is best the day it is made. (*Bistro Jeanty is a charming French bistro in Yountville—for when you can’t get to France and don’t want to cook.)
2 large yellow onions, peeled and diced
3 shallots, peeled and diced
8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
3 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
5 branches thyme
1 1/2 bottles good quality Merlot or Zinfandel
2 large chickens (3 ½ or 4 pounds each) cut up
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ c. olive oil
2 T flour
½ c. cognac
2 c. chicken stock (canned is ok)
1 ½ T unsweetened cocoa powder
6 oz. sliced apple-wood-smoked bacon, diced
1 basket pearl onions, blanched and peeled
1 lb. button mushrooms, quartered
2 T. chopped parsley for garnish
- Place onions, shallots, garlic, parsley sprigs, bay leaves, thyme and wine in a large non-reactive bowl. Add chicken and stir to mix. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
- Remove chicken from the wine marinade; reserve the marinade. Dry the chicken with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in large, heavy casserole over high heat. Add chicken in batches to the pan. Brown chicken well on all sides. Remove pieces when browned and set aside.
- Add flour to casserole and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
- Return chicken to casserole, stir and add cognac. Remove casserole from heat and carefully ignite the cognac. Let flames die out.
- Add marinade to casserole and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add chicken stock, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- Remove chicken from casserole and set aside. Strain sauce through a sieve. Discard the solids and return sauce to the casserole.
- Put cocoa in small bowl; add ½ c sauce, whisk until smooth. Add the cocoa mixture to the casserole, turn heat to high, boil until sauce is reduced to about 4 cups.
- When the sauce is reduced, lower heat to medium, and return chicken to casserole to heat through.
- Meanwhile sauté bacon in large skillet. As it begins to brown, add the pearl onions and then the mushrooms. Let the mix cook about 10 minutes until lightly colored. Remove mixture from skillet with slotted spoon, leaving fat in the skillet. Add solids to chicken. Stir to combine, sprinkle with parsley and serve.