The chickens on the wall brought eggs to my attention. When the sun shines through the “rideaux” that adorn our kitchen windows the chickens appear. They have no choice but to appear as they are embroidered, Noah like, in pairs, at regular intervals all over this oh so French version of curtains.
“Rideaux” are the prim, trim, lace cataracts which cover the eyes that are the windows of provincial French houses. In theory they prevent inquisitive eyes from prying, thus preserving the “liberté” of the householder: in practice they enable those inside to look out unobserved. Lace, being an openwork fabric patterned with holes, is the perfect material through which to observe, unobserved; for how else could one know exactly what one’s neighbour was doing without infringing their “liberté”, a keystone of the République.
The kitchen window acts as one of my many “studios”in and around our home. Daylight is diffused by the “rideaux” making it a perfect place to shoot pictures while I cook. The eggs, which I had just bought this morning, looked particularly special and speckled, and I quickly had one of them model a very cool little white number for me, which iconic image brought to mind the importance of this building block of nutrition. Even without having chickens in our garden, which makes us very unusual here, eggs are so readily available that I forget how how magical they can be in their transformation into countless delicious guises. Listing the possibilities would be dull fare, as lists replace the juice and pleasure with dusty facts and bland statistics.
Instead of lists , over the next few days, I’ll share with you some memories and recipes of egg dishes that will hopefully illustrate their importance to me and the pleasure that I take in simple food. An omelette and a glass of wine, if the eggs are good, the omelette baveuse and the wine crisp and fruity, is more pleasing to me than many other more complex offerings. I remember such an occasion, not long ago, when I was teaching photography to a client on a hot summer’s day. We had gone to a small riverside village and were so deeply engrossed in taking pictures that time seemed to pass imperceptibly. Time is important if one wishes to eat lunch in provincial France. Lunch starts at midday and ends two hours later. People may well be sitting in the restaurant beyond those crucial times, but the kitchen will be closed. A look at our watches told us that we were past the witching hour but our desire for something delicious drove us forward. The main thoroughfare through the village had a deserted feeling, which is not at all unusual in France, but there was a betting shop that appeared to have some signs of life. We thought it might be worthwhile going inside to make enquiries. Not surprisingly, the betting shop itself was empty but voices could be heard through a door to the side of the counter. Opening the door revealed a delightful room, set with tables and chairs, overlooking the very river bank on which we had been standing some few minutes before. A handful of people were finishing their coffee or draining the last sips of wine left in their glasses, which did not bode well. We sat down at a table that was laid and already charged with a carafe of wine and a jug of water, as is the case with restaurants serving a menu *ouvrier”. The time being twenty minutes past kitchen closing it did not seem likely that we would be enjoying anything more than a glass of wine and a beautiful view but, to our surprise, a smiling serveuse, who had just come into the room from the kitchen, came over and asked if we would like to eat. There was no question of choosing what we would like to eat, just the question as to whether we would like to eat. We gratefully thanked her and put ourselves in her hands. I can truthfully say that I have never before or since seen such a perfect plump pillow of beaten golden egg than that which she shortly brought to our table. A warmed plate was put before each of us and the omelette was cut in two revealing a meltingly soft interior, flecked with green from the finely chopped herbs, the butter oozing onto the serving plate. A plain salad of green leaves, dressed with a well seasoned vinaigrette, some fresh bread and unsalted butter were the sole accompaniments. We ate in silence, savouring the perfectly judged flavours, the wine, the sun and the view.
Today, I’m sharing Oeufs Meurette with you. What it lacks in obvious beauty it fully makes up in deep, rich flavour. This is a dish that I look for in good bistros. Like an omelette, it is a yardstick by which a kitchen can be judged and in the same way it will only be as good as the ingredients used, together with the care taken in each part of the preparation and the cooking. I heartily recommend that you try it, using the recipe below, from Stephane Reynaud’s “Ripailles”, which is another book that should definitely be on your shelves.