Friday, January 27, 2012



I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it
with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Small baby swaddled in creamy caramel blankets clutched to her chest, the woman in the supermarket line in front of me rattled on happily about the birth of her newest child, wondering that six weeks had already flown by. I smiled at her and exclaimed “and before you know it, 20 years will have elapsed” as I thought of my own babies, now grown men.

Each birthday is a time of reflection: where we have been, where we are now and where we are going. Wishes made as candles are blown out, eyes tightly shut, images of health, wealth and world peace flutter through our imagination; dreams float in and out and with each passing birthday, as we get older and the weeks and months between celebrations seem to grow shorter, we tick off our accomplishments on our fingers and make lists of what there is left to do; the years that once yawned before us seem numbered, our time now urgent and we wonder again if there will be enough time to get done all that we desire.

Yet that brief encounter at a place so banal as the supermarket, seeing one young woman’s face light up as she showed off her new baby, made me think of my own and I wonder if this is not my greatest accomplishment. I remember a letter once written to my brother so long ago during a rather rough period of my life when I counted happiness in moments spent with my husband, enumerated each struggle I faced living in a new country, how my days went with two small, headstrong boys; I felt locked in and going crazy, totally out of control and, need I say, as if I was going nowhere fast. My brother, always so thoughtful, so wise, so supportive, wrote back a long missive listing my accomplishments, reminding me that an extremely shy, small-town girl had picked up and moved abroad with no money and no help, married a Frenchman and was raising two multi-cultural sons; he pointed out that I had learned two foreign languages that I juggled on a daily basis in order to survive and get even my basic needs and those of my family met; he went on and on listing my achievements and exploits, forcing me to stare hard in the mirror of my own life and admit that, after all, I wasn’t a failure and that I had indeed done some pretty impressive things with the short number of years that had at the time so far been awarded me.

And years have flown by. Things have only gotten better; my husband and I now confront our troubles and worries as a team, encouraging each other, sharing, trying to understand the other’s confusion, difficulties and joys. We have gotten more adventurous as the years have scudded by, made changes, moved countries and cities, changed jobs as we have seen fit, as the urge, need, desire has come upon us. Maybe we have grown braver in the face of my brother’s illness and death, realizing that no one can be sure of how much time is left and that each and every moment should count, each new birthday a gift. Maybe as we have grown older and smarter we began to realize that we wanted to show our growing boys all that life can and should be, teach them the lesson that we can’t be afraid to face up to our dreams and that if we work hard enough we can make anything happen.

Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.

Okay, so birthdays make me sentimental and just slightly maudlin, I do admit. And another birthday has rolled around as they inevitably do and here I sit and think about… my sons. As I revealed and clarified in a previous post, my men are shy of the spotlight and none too thrilled with being mentioned in my writing, yet here I must reflect once again on how they began as adorable bambini and have grown into tall, handsome, fine young men. Clem, always the happy, chortling, gregarious tot, who ran before he could walk, chattered on and on before he could form words, frivolous and adventurous, has grown into a smart, ambitious, creative young man. My little Simon, thoughtful and quiet as a baby and toddler, careful, patient, eerily capable of too many things and having a capacity to read adults like some dark angel, sensitive and moody throughout his boyhood has become an honest, intellectual, generous, searching young adult just on the brink of his life. Both are kind, funny and clever, interested in the world around them, knowledgeable and cultivated. Both have the talent to tease their mother while making sure she is happy and safe, the capacity to drive her absolutely bonkers or outright into a rage while looking out for her well-being, protecting her while running her in circles. And both have the ability, in their pranks and jokes, to make me roll on the floor with laughter.

My husband and I are both on the point of starting over, beginning new careers, daring to find our true selves and put our happiness and our own satisfaction first; we focus on ourselves yet, looking around us, are astonished to see what our sons have become, astounded that we had a hand in creating two young adults that we are truly proud of. And watching and listening to them, sitting and talking and laughing with them, we realize that life has become just a little bit more satisfying and easier.

While we try to teach our children all about life,
our children teach us what life is all about.

He continues to cook and I to bake. A brief interlude from the sweets for one more savory: an Endive and Cancoillotte Gratin, a recipe that jumped off of the page out of our latest issue of French Saveurs magazine. Cancoillotte is a creamy, thick yet almost liquid, sticky and rather elastic cheese from the Franche-Comté region of France with a flavor that is impossible to describe (think the best cheese fondu you have ever eaten). Warm up this flavorful treasure and it becomes liquid gold, unctuous, luxurious like the finest French silk rippling, sliding down one’s skin. Although thick and oh-so decadent, Cancoillotte is one of the least fatty of cheeses with only 2 to 8% fat. Heaven! This dairy product has a fascinating history: it was actually conceived by a cheese producer during the First World War when he had the idea to produce, sterilize and can cheese to be sent easily to the soldiers, les Poilus, on the front. 90% of the production of Cancoillotte still takes place in Franche-Comté. Not widely known, my husband introduced this treasure into our home many years ago and, I can easily say, once a spoon is dipped into the creamy cheese and lifted to the lips, once it is served melted on toast, an all-time favorite, it is impossible to stop until the last drop is licked clean from the pot.

JP twiddled a bit with the recipe and placed on the table before us this magnificent gratin, at once slightly bitter (braised endives), salty (chunks of smoked ham), garlicky and tangy with this marvelous cheese all at once, the pecans giving the gratin an earthy, satisfying bite. A decadent pleasure. I paired it with this month’s Bake Together recipe by my talented friend Abby Dodge, a peasant boule, which I jazzed up with a cup of finely grate Parmesan cheese and a handful or two of mixed seeds – pine nuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. The Peasant Boule is this month’s Bake Together recipe: follow #baketogether on Twitter and find out how you, too, can bake together with us!

I would like to share this bread with Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly celebration of yeast, Yeastspotting!

From Saveurs février 2012

6 – 9 endives, depending on quantity desired
1 small pot (250 g) cancoillotte for 6 endives (1 ½ pots for 9)
Handful cubed smoked lardoons or ham
2.3 – 2.6 oz (65 – 75 grams) coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
Finely minced clove of garlic
1 small bouillon cube, optional
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Unsalted butter

Remove the outer leaves of the endives and trim off the end; discard. Slice each endive in two lengthwise and either steam or braise in a small amount of water with about ½ a bouillon cube (if desired), for about 10 minutes until soft.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a baking dish (terra cotta or glass/pyrex) large enough to snugly hold all of the prepared endives in one layer. Line up the braised or steamed endives in a row in the prepared baking dish.

Briefly sauté the smoked lardons until browned. Sauté the lardons in a small amount of butter if desired.

Evenly distribute the minced garlic, the browned lardons and the chopped pecans over the endives. Salt and pepper. Pour the cancoillotte all over the endives and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. The cheese should be bubbly and beginning to brown around the edges.

Serve immediately.


1 recipe peasant boule
1 cup finely grated Parmesan or Comté cheese
½ to 1 cup mixed seeds

Follow the directions for Abby’s Bake Together peasant boule on her blog, blending the cheese and seeds in with the dry ingredients before forming into a dough.

The only changes I made were using salted butter for the bowl, the pan and the top of the bread. I brushed the surface of the dough twice: once before the second rising, as instructed, and once just before sprinkling more seeds on the top of the boule and baking.

I changed the size of the cake pan I baked the bread in; I believe this may have led to the top of the bread splitting during baking as well as that the center of the dough was underbaked. But we loved the bread even if not perfect and I will be baking this again very soon.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Happy Birthday Jamie! I hope you'll have a wonderful day with your loved ones.

I love cancoillotte and endive casseroles! Your grating looks irresistible and the boule is beautiful.


Rosa xx

Sanjeeta kk said...

'A couple who cooks together stays healthy together!' Now I got one of your secrets :)
Like the seeds you sprinkled over the Boule..yummy Gratin..a perfect meal for any day.

Maureen said...

What a beautiful post. Happy birthday, sweetie. My birthday is this week too and like you, I reflect on my children and how proud of them I am and how much I miss them. They live their own lives and even if I were still in the states, they wouldn't spend all their time with me. sadly :)

I love both of these recipes. You are such clever cooks and bakers!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Happy birthday! It is absolutely unfair that you post about these wonderful French cheeses that we cannot find here in my part of New England! I am reading this post with breakfast, and now want nothing but a piece of toast with that gooey cheese. And endives.

Ken│hungry rabbit said...

Happy Belated Birthday! The melange of food embraces comfort, love and unique beauty, much like yourself.

Lora said...

Happy Birthday Jamie! That boule look so delish I would tick a few candles in it can call it a day.

Abby said...

Happy Birthday Jamie! Lovely, thoughtful post about your babies & family.xx

a spoonful of yumm said...

happy birthday jamie ! wishing you a yummy year ahead ;-)

Robin O | what-about-the-food said...

What a treat, when the birthday girl gives us presents of thoughtful tenderness, creamy cheese and bread all in one post.

This is why I keep coming back to Life's a feast. Honest, sincere, real and yes, wonderful food.

Happy Birthday Jamie!

Vijitha said...

Happy birthday Jamie! May this year be with tons and tons of happiness and memorable moments. It's breakfast time now and you make me crave for your gratin.

Jenn @leftoverqueen said...

You had me at Lardons! :) Happy Birthday to you!

German said...

Chicory or Endive are originally from Europe. I think one of the reason why chicory still popular in the supermarket chain is because the compressed shape of his leaves and are available in two colors, the dream of any supermarket manager :-)

nancy baggett said...

I think I may have enjoyed this post more than any others of yours I've read--and I've enjoyed a number of them very much. Your mention of remembering coping with long days with small children in unfamiliar surroundings took me back to the years when we lived in Germany and my son was young. Interesting times, but sometimes hard, too. And I, too, sometimes look at this fine man with children of his own, and wonder where the years went, and how I ended up so lucky in my life. Happy Birthday, Jamie.

Junglefrog said...

Can't believe I missed your birthday but happy belated birthday Jamie!!! Here's to many wonderful birthdays!! ;)

WiseMóna said...

Happy birthday lovely lady. I love the descriptions of your boys. I hope your weekend is filled with lots of rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter xxxx

Lisa said...

Happy Birthday to you
Your Boule is a beaut
The endive gratin is fabulous
I wish D cooked like that too!

Loved the story about your struggles with your new life in France years ago and how JP accentuated the postives. He not only cooks amazing food, he provides you with lovely, eye opening gems of wisdom. Yep, you chose a winner.

I hope your special day has been full of love, joy, and great pressies! ;)

Jamie said...

@Nancy Baggett: Thank you so much for your words; they mean so much to me! And I am glad that I am not alone in the ups and downs of living in a foreign country.

@Lisa: was my bro not my husband who shook sense into me! LOL! Love you, baby!

Carolyn said...

Just pinned this one on our Delicious Endive Recipes board!!!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Happy Birthday darling Jamie! I hope you had a wonderful one and I'm raising a glass and a slice of cake to you now! :D

Maris (in Good taste) said...

Happy Belated! This is a lovely post written so from the heart

marie, the EpicureanPiranha said...

Dear Jamie, so sorry I missed your birthday! I hope it was fabulous, and that you were surrounded by your loved ones to celebrate! As I read your article, I have to admit that the same questions float through my mind when that time of year comes around... I love how you described your brother's love and strong support, and your two sons of whom you are so proud. You're a great author and baker, and a great mom I'm sure :-) So lovely to know you!

Take good care! Sending you warm, belated Birthday Wishes,

~ marie x

North Carolina said...

Happy Birthday, sweetheart! The post is really great and the bread looks absolutely fantastic. Congrats!

Deeba PAB said...

Happy birthday my sweetest sister. I have been missing online as always. House full of guests, daughter on the final exam run and the computer completely messed up.Did you have a shining good day. Did JP spoil you endlessly? Vin doesn't cook...must make him read your post! What a fab gratin that is. Yay you JP!! And that boule ... wow! Must have been one delicious meal. YUM!
Big hugs ma cherie; BIG HUGS! xoxoxoxo

Tanya said...

Jamie, as you already know from my blog post, this was a lovely recipe and a lovely meal.

In all my excitement over reading the recipe and planning ahead I omitted to leave a little comment. (Oh, how time gets away from me these days.) As a result I did not return to wish you a happy birthday. I hope that your day was a beautiful one. Know that you were in my thoughts, certainly because of this wonderful recipe, but mainly because your beautiful self shines through your writing.

I wish you and your family a wonderful 2012 with as much laughter as you can handle.

Jamie said...

@Tanya: comment or no comment, the greatest compliment and gratification is when a reader - or friend - sees a recipe on my blog and makes it. It is even better when they (and their spouse) love it. This was a great recipe and I am thrilled you loved it too. Thanks for the birthday wishes and I am wondering when we are ever going to meet?

Nancy said...

Oh my goodness... this looks SO good and yes, decadent... but that's what birthdays are all about!

Meeta K. Wolff said...

Happy Birthday my sweet Saucy sister. Always count my blessings that our paths crossed the way they did and we have found each other. That boule looks divine and the perfect partner with the endive!

Jill Colonna said...

Many happy returns, Jamie. Loved reading your post. As for the endive and bacon, love this with the Cancoillotte. I can't believe I've missed out on this - high time I grab it in the supermarket and make this, too. I normally just carmelise the endives but done with that gooey sauce just looks too divine to miss!

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

I'm making another loaf of this bread today. Parmesan and pine nuts are on my agenda too. It's too easy. To make and to eat! Yours look great and now am craving endive too. Maybe I should have some breakfast before I look at any more food; you think?

Mairi @ Toast said...

OMG that cheese....:) It sounds positively ambrosial!

Delana said...

I came from Tanya to get the recipes. And though I can't wait to try them, your post about your family...birthday....etc, was absolutely lovely. Happy Birthday and thank you.

Jill Colonna said...

Jamie, so wanted to return to this post to thank you for making me discover cancoillotte (still can't believe I've never noticed it before at the supermarkets.) Made a gratin with it the other day using leeks, bacon, gnocchi and it must have been one of the most yummy and speedy gratins that the family adored. Merci!


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