FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN IN LYON
My love affair was waning. I knew it had to come to an end one day. Ah, yes, the sparkle was gone leaving just a dull tarnish in its place. A chill wind blew between us and our eyes no longer met, no spark of yearning, no shiver of excitement. I would wake up in the morning and roll over and thoughts would flit through my head, plans, strategies, how would I leave? How could I get out of this unhappy entanglement that no longer worked for us? Had I tried hard enough to make it work? Was it my own fault that the fire had gone out leaving only cold ashes and a chill in the air? Was it only I that saw that the honeymoon was truly over?
Yes, you see, I had fallen out of love with France. Her way of life and I just didn’t get along, an unhappy marriage. I yearned for the new and exciting, a different touch, another regard. The relationship had faded into the same old, same old and we just seemed to be biding our time, sitting side by side as if the other was not even there, waiting for something new to come along, a stranger tall, dark and handsome to knock at the door. What was I to do?
And then I fell in love all over again. With Lyon. The flame was re-ignited, the old spark bit deep into my heart and burst forth in joyous, passionate wild abandon. I longed to wrap my arms around her and hold her there forever. Lyon, grand and magnificent, her ageless beauty hiding a fascinating past as old as time itself. Lyon, a large, proud city yet with something of the small town about it, a smattering of small parks and city squares strewn around the city filled with laughing children and gossiping parents, teen lovers entwined in the warm sun and a warmer embrace. A city separated into neighborhoods, like siblings standing next to one another, each with her own personality, own style, yet something similar, something recognizable that connects them as family. As we drove over the river and through the streets searching for our hotel, the sun bouncing off the white, white stone of the buildings, I was struck by the beauty, the energy, as well as a calm self-confidence of this ancient and glorious city. We strolled around the neighborhood before our first meal, excited and anxious to discover all of her secret workings, her hidden alleyways and her gastronomic gems.
Our meal that evening was stupendous; a tiny old bouchon, a typical Lyonnais bistro serving only the best of the local gastronomic traditional dishes, a bouchon that we soon discovered was actually saved from sure financial ruin by a private investor and now run by a group of young, dynamic people, a wonderful old bouchon all in dark wood and old paintings, tiny tables and joyous eaters amid the bustle of the staff and the noise emanating from the kitchen. We started with salads, Salade Lyonnaise for him and a Crayfish and Shrimp Salad for me. Fresh and bountiful, a meal in itself, the salads were fabulous! And of course, who comes to Lyon and enters the sacred dining room of a veritable bouchon without tasting the Quenelle de Brochet, a stunning soufflé-like baked sea bass quenelle served in a thick white béchamel with the perfect hint of mushrooms? Or the famous poule de Bresse, the Bresse hen en suprême also smothered in the perfect creamy white sauce and served over rice. We ended this perfect, filling meal with one Baba au Rhum and one slice of apple tart and tumbled off home to bed.
The following morning we climbed aboard the funicular like two excited children on a Disney ride! The tiny red car took us up and up, passing through ancient Roman arches to the Fourvière district, former capital of Ancient Gaul (founded in 43 BCE and was the capital of Gaul from 27 BCE). We spent a delightful morning wandering through the fascinating museum and I remain in awe that no matter how advanced and brilliant we believe we are today everything has (well almost everything) already been done before us and much earlier than we could ever imagine. I mean, glass before the common era? Tools and nails and jewelry and television … ok, just seeing if you are still reading. Their small guided special exhibit on death and burial was fascinating, instructive and incredibly well done. Their respect for the dead and the entire cycle of life and death simply seems so much more human and compassionate than the way it is treated today and I constantly found my eyes welling with tears.
For lunch the man I love showed his undying adoration for me by bringing me to Best Bagels, offering to his best girl, his American wife, the pleasure, the joy of eating a real live New York bagel, fresh, tender and chewy, spread with real Philadelphia cream cheese and a thick slice of real Nova lox for lunch! This is a pleasure she only has the chance to indulge in once a year when back in the States. And he enjoyed a good old kosher hot dog himself! Perfect!
But the best was yet to come! We stumbled upon – well, he had actually read about – the best bouchon, an authentic bouchon, in the heart of the city, Le Musée. We pushed open the door and stepped into another world, a world of the traditional bouchon that has not changed in 5 generations of owners! A warm welcome awaited us as we, entranced, wended our way through this magical, bustling bouchon. Tables of dark chocolate brown wood polished and gleaming, a bar hugging one wall lined with bottles of all shapes and sizes and colors, diners happy and buoyant, common folk sitting elbow to elbow next to Lyon’s upper crust bourgeois carrying on animated conversations, sharing stories, laughs and the pleasure of eating in such a place. Le patron hovers over his clients, teasing, joking, making sure everyone is content and he finds himself over at our table where, instead of handing us menus as we had expected, he pulls up a chair and joins us at our table. He then begins to recite the days offerings, explaining and commenting on each dish, one by one, pulling gleefully on his own plump cheek as he describes the joues de porc, the pig’s cheeks, and asking our fellow diners to hold up their plates of food for our scrutiny as he names one or the other, confident that the diner in question will certainly praise the food. I began with a plate of snails, dense yet tender swimming in a luscious cream sauce kissed by garlic and sitting perched atop tiny home-baked brioche. Once again I just had to try the quenelle de brochet served here in a langoustine cream sauce. As usual it was as big as my head, light and fluffy like a soufflé though denser and tasting delicately of fish. Gorgeous! My meal ended with a warm crème brulée, just perfect.
Yet, near the end of the meal an excited buzz started running through the dining room, whispers passing from client to client. And M. Minaire, le patron, approaches each table, each client, and invites us all to a private tour of his “traboule”, the secret passages that weave between buildings and court yards all throughout Lyon allowing residents and visitors to pass from building to building without going out into the street. M. Minaire, elegant and erudite, passionate about the history of his building and his traboule, leaves us laughing at his bawdy brothel jokes, entranced by the stories of famous people, fascinated by the history of this secret, fabulous spot in Lyon, a history of Ancient Rome, the Resistance, the city’s famous silk workers, Presidents and prostitutes, church and politics. An evening truly well spent.
I left Lyon as the mid-morning sun began to warm the pavement. I turned my back on her after tenderly brushing a hand against her cheek still warm with sleep, leaving her amid the tumble of sheets, a slight breeze just ruffling the curtains. My guilt at the thought of what turned out to be simply a 2-night stand, of breaking promises given in the heat of new-found passion, of leaving her jilted has eaten away at my heart and I long to return. To return to discover the rest of her, every curve, every passageway, every mood, every hidden passion and each secret she holds hidden from strangers. I no longer want to be a stranger to this intriguing, bewitching, delightful city. I want to call her my own.
I have continued my love affair with the fresh strawberries and rhubarb of this glorious early Spring season with yet another dessert, another experiment. I took an idea and basic recipe from les meilleurs desserts put out by Marabout Chef and created a cross between a warm fruit compote and a soup, blending tart rhubarb, sweet, sweet gariguette strawberries and a cupful of beautiful deep blue blueberries (these frozen) and baked the compote with a meringue-like cake topping. The result was wonderful! Crack your spoon through the crisp golden crown, dip through the delicate, barely there cake and plunge your spoon into the deep violet fruit and taste. Sweet, tangy, tart all in one (thanks to the rhubarb) balanced by the sweet topping. Husband added a few spoonfuls of fresh, creamy yogurt and thought it was out of this world. I think that the tartness of the rhubarb will be well balanced served up with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream, any flavor you choose, allowing it to slowly, gently melt on the warm fruit and cake.
I am anxious for summer to come as I want to next make this using fresh, ripe peaches and cherries along with a handful of fresh berries. This would work perfectly with most summer fruits and/or berries.
Café Comptoir Abel 25, rue Guynemer 69002 Lyon 04 78 37 46 18 25
Le Musée 2, rue des Forces 69000 Lyon 2ème 04 78 37 71 54
Best Bagels 14, rue d’Auvergne 69002 Lyon
And don't miss reading my first article for Huffington Post Food. If you enjoy it, please don't hesitate to leave a comment as well as share it with your friends! Enjoy!
Tickets are still available for this year's Food Blogger Connect in London the weekend of June 5. I will be speaking about Writing Style/Finding Your Voice for the food blogger! Don't miss it!
STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB COMPOTE WITH GENOISE TOP
I made 4 individual servings and 1 large 4-person serving.
28 oz (800 g) fresh rhubarb, peeled and cut into 1-inch (2 cm) chunks
28 oz (800 g) other mixed fruit, fresh or frozen (I used about 1 lb/500 g strawberries and about 1 cup of frozen blueberries)
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 Tbs flour
2 Tbs self-rising flour
2 Tbs Maizena/cornstarch
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C)
Clean, trim and slice your fruit – the strawberries I cut lengthwise in half. Place the rhubarb in a small pot with 2/3 cup (175 ml) water and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Heat gently until it comes to a boil then simmer to cook for 5 minutes. The rhubarb should be tender and the mixture thick. If too watery simply allow it to cook for 1 more minute. If using any frozen berries, stir the berries into the hot rhubarb and stir to defrost. Stir in the cinnamon. Allow to cool slightly and stir in the prepared strawberries. Divide into one oven-proof baking dish or bowl or divide into about 8 individual dishes or large ramekins, not filling more than 2/3 full.
Beat the eggs until beginning to foam and thicken then add the remaining sugar gradually as you continue to beat the eggs. Add the flours and the cornstarch either beating on low speed or by hand.
Pour or ladle on the cake batter over the fruit just to fill the ramekins. Place on a baking tray and bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the topping is golden, crispy and firm like a genoise. If it seems that the top is browning too quickly then cover the cake top loosely with foil until done cooking.
Serve warm with cream or yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream. Or as is.