The Aunties Recipe

The Aunties are there when you need them. And every family needs them. The nickname came about during one of the worst weekends of our lives.

Whenever a major event occurred in my sister-in-laws family, her mother and her mother's sisters swooped in and handled it.  Diligently, happily and tirelessly, they would take care of everyone during a family crisis, or a celebration.  They washed dishes, served meals, did laundry and made beds.  They swept floors, answered doors and did errands.  They did things we younger women didn't even know needed doing.  They had been doing it for decades, but it was the weekend of my brother's memorial that made us take note.

My sister-in law Shari, Pamela (who was the wife of my brother's best friend) and myself--we did the best we could.  But we and the rest of our generation were grief-stricken.  Most of us were in a mental fog throughout the weekend and rotely moved from one task to the next with no good idea of what was coming next.  All the events happened, people came and went, everyone pitched in, there was food and drink and places to sleep.  And then it was over.  And it got quiet.  And we wondered how it all happened, or even what had happened.

The three of us were sitting in the kitchen when Aunt Micky walked in.  She gave us a quick update since she was getting ready to leave.  "The beds are all clean, there is one last load of towels in the dryer.  Aunt Sue is with Gerry and she will stay with her through tomorrow night when the caregiver arrives."

Shari, Pamela and I looked at each other.  The Aunties.  The Aunties were the ones that took care of the younger generation that had not been through some of the big  moments of life and weren't quite prepared to handle both the emotions and the logistics simultaneously.  The Aunties quietly passed on their strength and knowledge so the next generation would know what to do. We decided right then that we would be the Aunties.

The Aunties.

We laughed and we cried as we pictured ourselves in this emerging role.  We had six adult children between us that would all need Aunties.  We may not have grown up as sisters, but we were sisters now. And Aunties we would be.

"We have to be able to grow up.  Our wrinkles are our medals of the passage of time. They are what we have been through and who we want to be." -Lauren Hutton

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The Aunties Recipe When people gather for a rite of passage, whether filled with joy or sadness, these tips are the recipe to provide the strength of the Aunties. The goal is to allow the younger generation the ability to grieve or celebrate while surrounded by the comfort of others but not be stressed by the details involved with multiple days of hosting.

*Be sensitive to the host. Ask once if it is okay to take over and get things done. With approval, move ahead and don't look back! *Give friends and family specific tasks to help, like some of the shopping or cooking or tasks listed below. *Keep friends and family updated and involved. Answer the phone. Give information. Return calls. *Check the home and outside entry where visitors will be gathering with a discerning eye, tidying up and adding flowers or plants where needed. *Buy or ask someone to buy what might be needed like snack food, paper napkins, plastic cups, etc.  It is okay if it isn't used. *Stock up on wine, beer, soft drinks and any other beverages that you think will be needed. This is a good place to involve friends. Ask them to bring things! *Gather basic recipes that anyone can cook for a crowd. When out-of-town friends offer to help, give them a recipe and ask them to buy the ingredients and/or help make the dish! *Ask local friends to drop off prepared food. Be specific as to what is needed. *If someone else is cooking, help them find where everything is located in the kitchen. *Keep gathering dirty laundry and doing the wash so it doesn't pile up. *Bring in the mail each day. *Take out the trash and find out what day the bins go out if needed. *Answer the door and phone and take messages. *Keep a list of gifts, flowers or assistance that were received. *Don't be afraid to talk about the situation.  And don't be afraid to be quiet. *Hug everyone. Often. *Take time for yourself so you can take care of others with love.

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Julia's Steak Diane

Julia Child and Hubby were great friends that shared the same birthday on August 15th.Two headstrong Leos that found kinship. She loved his interest in business and the world and they would talk for hours on current topics of the day.  She asked his opinions on wine and politicians and people.  She was curious about everything.

Julia and I were friends too, but I have no illusions that she loved me like she loved Hubby.  I enjoyed being with her and her friends,  and talking about food and cooking and life, but she got a special sparkle in her eye when she conversed with Hubby.

And being with Julia was always fun.  We had dinner with Julia when the New York Times article was published about the now-famous blogger Julie Powell, and it sparked a great conversation about blogging which was new to all three of us in 2003.  Oh how I wish I could hear Julia's thoughts on food blogs today!

Julia loved films and I remember when she joined our family to see Holes, a PG movie that was mostly for our kids but Julia thought it was funny and entertaining and she just loved to be out and about, not exactly blending in but not minding either. She also liked Costco hot dogs and In-N-Out burgers and we would indulge her with those on occasion.  She loved oysters and restaurants and trying new things.  Julia wanted to experience life and was interested in everything, which made it a joy to be with her.  She inspired me greatly.

Hubby truly loved her.  He sat at her bedside holding her hand the day she died.  Following her death, Hubby became one of three trustees of The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.  He was honored and pleased and it gave him a way to stay connected to her memory.

Image Shortly after she passed, I was feeling reflective about Julia and thought I would take a look through the box of Julia's DVDs and books that were given to Hubby to review.  I was watching “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home,” when I came across a recipe I thought my family would like... “Steak Diane.”  I starting glancing through my Julia cookbooks to find the recipe and, much to my surprise, I could not find it.  I tried an internet search and still no luck.  So I sat down and watched the show again, taking notes of the recipe as they prepared it on the show and I made it that night for the family.  One and Only Son LOVED it and it is probably his most requested meal behind Reme’s Enchiladas when he returns home for visits.  Firstborn Daughter also loves it, second only to Green Chicken.  And Baby Girl and Hubby just plain love it.  It is one of the only meals I make that is a favorite to all members of my family. Julia was a darn good cook.

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"The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook." -Julia Child

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Julia’s Steak Diane

Summarized and interpreted from “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" No measurements were given so I have included my measurements and added my notes about how to prepare.  Serves 4.

2 Rib-eye steaks, well-trimmed and pounded to 1/4” thickness* 2 tsp soy sauce 2 tsp olive oil 3 T. clarified butter** 1-2 T shallots, finely chopped 1 T dijon mustard 1/4 to 1/3 cup beef stock fresh parsley, finely chopped

Drizzle soy sauce and olive oil onto the steaks.  Use your hands and massage into the steaks well.  The steaks can sit for up to 30 minutes while you chop the shallots and parsley.  Saute steaks in 1 to 2 T. of clarified butter over medium high heat, just a couple of minutes per side.  They may not fully brown but you don’t want to overcook them.  Remove the steaks to a plate when still rare. Turn heat to medium low, add more butter to the pan and stir in the shallots.  Stir for a minute or so and be careful not to burn the shallots! Mix mustard with 1/4 cup of stock and pour into pan with shallots.  Reduce the liquid down a few minutes.  Add more stock if the sauce is too thick. Add steaks back to pan just long enough to heat through.  Remove steaks to plate, spoon sauce over and garnish with parsley.

*When the steaks are pounded, they become quite large in size.  I usually cut each in half before cooking.  Julia and Jacques cooked them whole but suggested two people could share one.

**Clarified butter can be purchased at some grocery stores.  Ghee can be substituted but it has a nutty taste that clarified butter does not.  I like to make my own. Put 1/2 pound of unsalted butter into a heavy-bottomed pan.  Over low heat, melt the butter and continue to cook over low.  It will start to bubble and foam as the water boils off.  The milk solids will sink to the bottom and the middle will be a clear liquid which is the clarified butter.  There will eventually be very little foam on top and you will see the golden clear liquid.  This can take up to 30 minutes depending on your pan.  When the foam is nearly gone and bubbling stops, remove from heat immediately so it doesn’t burn.  You can then pour off the liquid into a container, skimming off the foam and leaving the milk solids in the bottom.  Or strain through a cheese cloth or coffee filter to separate the clear liquid from the milk solids.  If it is well strained, the clarified butter can stay at room temperature but it is best to refrigerate and it will last for months.

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Tom's Truffled Ribeye

Beef was not on the menu in my kitchen when my children were young, partly because I didn’t eat it much but mostly because I didn’t know how to cook it.  In 1999, Hubby and I went on a trip to Paris that changed my opinion of beef and opened up my kitchen to a host of new recipes.  I don't remember much about Paris from that trip in 1999 except for the beef dinner.  What I remember much more vividly is our trip to Paris in 1985.  Funny how that works.

In 1985, we were quite young and very adaptable. We stayed at a quaint, inexpensive hotel in the 6th arrondissement which suited us fine but I no longer remember it's name.  After settling in, we set out on our first evening to find a place recommended to us called “Willi’s Wine Bar.”  Remember, this was pre-internet so we couldn't look things up prior to travel and calling international on our land-line-only phones was very expensive. We had booked a hotel by phone, from the recommendation of a college professor, and off we went to Paris.

Wine Bars were a somewhat new phenomenon in Paris in 1985. Our friends in the wine business had told us about Willi's and we were excited to try it so it was the first place we headed. We found it with ease and loved the concept of wine by the glass and small plates.  It was a lively and fun location to start our night, much better than the typical bar of those days, which we tended to avoid.  Hubby made fast friends with the bartender (now he would certainly be called a sommelier but back then he was still a bartender) as they discussed vintages in depth and talked about the best and brightest wines of the moment.  Hubby knows his wines and there is nothing a sommelier likes better than talking about wine.  We got extra-special treatment from our new friend.

After a few glasses and some tasty bites, Hubby asked his new friend where we should  go for dinner.  One recommendation only...we had to eat at Chez George.  Mr. Bartender said it was locals only, fantastic fresh French food, and an amazing wine list.  He called over and told them we were coming.  It wasn’t a far walk.  The first thing I remember about Chez George was when we entered the cozy dining room, there was a large platter of teeny, tiny, deep red strawberries on a little cart with some other desserts.  I couldn’t believe those little strawberries could be very good and I somewhat doubted our restaurant choice.

The place was definitely French.  It was small and plain, and there wasn't a foreigner in the room.  Hubby talked to the appropriate Wine Guy that had been referred by Mr. Bartender and we were told to order a very special wine, one that had never before been seen in the United States and, in fact, not seen in France until recently...it was a white mutant of a red grape called a Nuit St. Georges Blanc and it was from Burgundy.  Hubby put his trust in Wine Guy and we were helped through the French-only menu and ordered.

I know we loved our food, but I don't remember exactly WHAT food we ate for our first two courses.  I do know that by the time dessert rolled around, we wholeheartedly trusted everything they told us to do at Chez George, so we ordered the tiny strawberries.  They were sublime. It was a bit of a food epiphany for me during a time when complicated food was all the rage. I realized that great ingredients stand on their own. I have never tasted another strawberry since with the amazingly sweet and pungent flavor of those unadorned French wild strawberries.  And that wasn't the wine talking.  Although what happened after the strawberries can only be told from the memory of someone who drank a few glasses of wine at a wine bar, followed by an entire bottle at a restaurant.

The mutant, rare wine was unique, rich but light, delicious, affordable, and we had to have more.  Hubby desperately wanted to take a bottle home to the States to share with friends.  He talked to Wine Guy who told him production was very limited and it could not be purchased in any shop.  But Wine Guy saw the passion in his eyes and said if we went to the desk by the door upon leaving (literally behind a curtain) and paid cash, he could sell us a bottle to take with us.  Hubby was elated.  We finished up, went to the desk where the bottle emerged and Hubby went to pay.  And then he  panicked.  He didn’t have enough cash.  He started riffling through his pockets and pulling out change.  I went through my purse and found some more coins.  We were getting close, but not really.  Wine Guy just looked at us and smiled, “Please...take it.  I can see you will enjoy it.”

But the story does not end there. We had no money for a taxi, which were cash only in those days, so we began the long walk home.  About half way there, we were both feeling the byproduct of all our beverages and desperately needed to use the toilet.  I searched my bag again and came up with a 1 Franc coin that was needed for the public toilets on the street corners.  But we only had one.  The toilets were so small that only one person could go in and I guess we couldn’t leave the door open to go one at a time.  I’m sure there was a good reason, perhaps the amount of wine in our systems, we decided we had to go in together if we were both going to use the toilet.  We did some acrobatics to get in and managed to both go while holding on to the precious bottle of wine.  But, somehow, during the process of trying to get out of the stall, I dropped the bottle.  Quelle Horreur!!!

Fortunately, not for me but for the bottle, it landed on my foot.  The bottle didn’t break and Hubby was elated once again.  Disaster averted, except for the fact that my foot was swelling up quickly and hurt like heck.  And we still had to walk home.  My foot puffed up for a day, turned lovely shades of purple and ached for the rest of the trip, but it was not broken.  And Hubby had his wine so he very willingly accommodated my frequent stops to rest my foot.  The bottle made it safely home, probably because I was never allowed to handle it again, and it was thoroughly enjoyed by our guests who especially appreciated the story and the effort we exerted to bring it to our table.

But back to the beef and our return trip to Paris....Whew, this is a long story made longer! We returned to Chez George on our trip in 1999 and loved it's low-key authentic feel just as we had nearly fifteen years prior, but no groundbreaking wines or memorable recipes resulted from that dinner.  It was the unpredictable next night that lives on in my recipe file.  The night after revisiting Chez George and revisiting our favorite wine (which had increased in production over the prior fourteen years and wasn't nearly as rare) we were invited to the apartment of our good friends who live in Paris for a casual stay-at-home night.

Tom was the best man at our wedding so he and Hubby go back a LOT of years.  Tom  and his wife Erica are models-turned-business-owners who have been living and working in Paris for decades.  You can imagine how tres chic they and their lives are, living in a magnificent apartment in the Marais with their adorable daughters and all of Paris at their doorsteps.  And of course, like all the French it seems, they have impeccable taste in food.  In their tiny apartment kitchen on rue du Temple, Tom whipped up some simple ribeye steaks in simple parisian style in a matter of minutes. They were tender, and juicy, and flavorful, and well...meaty.  They were nothing short of spectacular.  The thin ribeye's were seared in a pan, topped with a dab of butter, then drizzled with truffle oil before resting for a few minutes.  I tried his method shortly after returning home and just like that my kids (and myself) were steak lovers. Merci Tom and Erica, and Paris.

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"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."  -Ernest Hemingway

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Tom's Truffled Ribeye (recipe for 2 persons, double or triple as desired)

2 ribeye steaks, about 1/2" thick (10-12 oz each)* 1 T olive oil 1/2 tsp salt 1 T butter, room temperature 1/8 to 1/4 tsp pepper 1 tsp truffle oil (I use white)

Massage olive oil and salt into steaks, dividing evenly.  Let sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. I often leave them out for 30-45 minutes to take the chill off completely. Heat a large pan to medium high and place the steaks into the dry pan. Let the steaks sear  for 2-3 minutes.**  Using tongs, grab one end of the steak and gently pull away from the pan.  It should be nicely browned and pull away from the pan easily. Flip over and sprinkle with pepper. Continue to cook another 2-3 minutes then remove the steaks from the pan onto a side plate. (If you leave the steaks in the pan, they will keep cooking and not allow for the juices to redistribute.) Divide the butter between the the two steaks and place a pat on top of each. Drizzle with truffle oil and let sit 5 minutes before moving each steak to a dinner plate.

Notes:  *Ribeye's are often about 1" thick.  If you like your meat very rare you can cook the the thick steaks (increase time a bit) but I usually just slice them in half to make two steaks that are 1/2" thick each. **The cooking time varies depending on thickness of steak, temperature of meat and desired doneness.  I like medium-rare so a total of 5 minutes in the pan is about right for me.  

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