All the best things in life are clichés.
Paris, is a cliché.
I’ve fought consciously throughout my adult life not to fall for it, or at the very least, say it out loud, fearing I’ll sound like a girl wanting to model or a guy in a sports car. It oozes unoriginality. But in the end, excuse mine if you will, as we sat predictably at an open cafe at 6:30 am, watching this city in beige and pastel grey slowly waking up in a wash of golden summer lights, acutely aware of its both corny and extraordinary allure. Paris, I succumbed, is Paris for a reason.
But I knew that four years ago, when I visited Paris for the time time. This time, I wanted more.
I wanted more not from Paris, but from the country that it has instilled great bewilderment for inside my mind. If that was Paris, then what is France? An embarrassingly stupid question no doubt, for a pre-middle age woman to ask but frankly, I’m too old to pretend that I’m better. If I were destined with death-by-sugar then fuck it, bring out the ice cream-truck, and I want her every single available flavors including the weird ones against my best judgement. Not just to see her polished beauty but – almost out of both cynicism and total respect – I wanted to slowly cruise through her central veins, starting from Paris, then Burgundy, Lyon, Luberon, Marseille, then along her riviera that ends in Nice. What would I find on a road trip in France? Perhaps a side of her that looks no different than places just off of the New Jersey turnpike (and yes there are). Or perhaps more beautiful cliches? Those perfectly imperfect ancient villages and chateaus freckling along her cheeks. Would I be able to have one? To find it unmistakably amidst all, to go back to it again and again? My favorite freckle of hers?
Our journey began with a short pause in Paris. Depending on your aspirations, a stay across Sunday and Monday in the middle of August, is either the best, or worst time to be in Paris… In fact, all major cities in Europe for that matter. (don’t do it) Luckily, the city maintained enough functionality for us to pack enough saucissons, terrines, cheeses and mid-summer peaches to fuel our trip and the next day, we went south. I’ll say, that the first hour was not the most exciting thing to have happened in the history of road trips, but as the inevitable roughness surrounding every major city slowly peeled away, almost sensually, like a woman undressing, the lines of her terrain started to unveil, and her curves emerged throughout a landscape so vast, I could see the sun casting shadows through the clouds on her body like dappled lights.
You couldn’t help but sigh… fine… so she is. The postcards and footages you see about France’s wine country that you almost doesn’t want to believe is real because someone else has it and you don’t… All that, and yet in fact, she does. She does look like this, feel like this, smell like this, exist like this. It is almost infuriatingly true. That evening we arrived at Chateau de Burnand. How do I even describe the chateau… I almost chuckled… this impossible beauty that I found so carelessly on Airbnb only as a “mid-stop” between Paris and Lyon, like it’s some kind of gas station on a highway, but in return, perhaps changed how I feel about living forever. I am not sure if I can describe it… or if I even want to for that matter. You can’t describe a song and even if you tried, it will not convey.
But there were two tall, slander wooden window in our room. When opened, the brisk, cool morning air pours in, melts into the space and fills your pores. It almost consumes you, like a glass of aged wine, with a hint of grass, moss and fresh barn hays, alive and fluid… I could taste its intent.
It’s not quiet. It’s not… peace. But stillness, at heart.
In that moment, I felt, so rarely, that my mind could be still for a moment, or forever. There are a limited number of moments in life that your mind will not and cannot let go until the end, and I left one at the Chateau de Burnand.
But of course I brilliantly planned only one short magical night at the chateau, and the next morning, we had to peel ourselves from the cool skins of Burgundy. Next, Lyon.
Maybe I didn’t get the memo or something, but as I mentioned before, apparently in August, every major cities in France were on vacation just as we were. Perhaps it’s time now to declare it as an reoccurring epiphany before I sound like a broken record when I start to talk about Marseille and, to a lesser extent, Cannes.
Just for the record, we didn’t really meet Lyon, okay, not really, or Marseille for that matter. They were both on vacation, sipping Mar Tai in Phuket or kicking foosball in Barcelona I don’t know. They weren’t here. So realizing that most shops, or most cities, was going to be unavailable as far as we could see, we changed tactic. We picnic.
We still hit a few highlights. Cafe Comptoir Abel, because the most unapologetic part of French cuisines – the heavily creamed mustard sauce that engulfs a tripe-filled anduillette proud in its girth, the petite lamb kidneys finished in a butter-laiden wine sauce, the pike souffle broiled under a blanket of white bachamel so rich it congealed the second it started to cool – thank god, is still here. And Le Bouchon Des Filles, because of its reasonably priced and delicately planned 5-course meal including boudin noir and apple baked in puff pastry, and lime sorbet with crumbled meringue.
But for the most parts, we picnic.
In Grand Park Miribel Jonage, just 30 minutes off of Lyon, big and small pocks of blue lagoons and a couple of peaceful swans, spent a lovely afternoon with us. At that point ,we could only hope that our next destination, a small village called Loumarin of the Luberon region in Provence, was going to be in a less holiday mood.
— TO BE CONTINUED
Lyonnaise sausage, a thick fresh pork sausage almost mandatory in every bouchon in Lyon, is usually served with lentil salad. But here, I’ve adapted it to go with warm beans flavored with clove and star anise in an emulsion of chicken stock, Dijon mustard and butter, then more browned butter with crispy sage. This type of sausage, which I thought would taste like bologna but actually resembles closer to ham, can be hard to find and substitute for. If you can find something similar, go for it, but if not, I would say that sweet Italian sausage, although not the same thing, would tastes great in this preparation as well.
- 1 Lyonnaise sausage (mine weight 455 grams), or equivalent amount of sweet Italian sausage
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small carrot (100 grams/1 cup), cut into chunks
- 1 celery stalk (90 grams/1 scant cup), cut into chunks
- 1 medium onion, cut into chunks
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 fresh bay leaves
- 1 whole clove
- 1 star anise
- 4 cups (1000ml) chicken stock
- 3 cans (400 grams per can) cannelini beans
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- Sea salt, ground white and black pepper to season
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 small handful of fresh sage leaves
- In a cast-iron pot (or any heavy bottomed pot) over medium heat, add olive oil, carrot, celery, onion, garlic and bay leaves. Season with a pinch of sea salt, 1/4 tsp of white and black pepper each, and cook for several minutes until the onions are soft. Add clove, star anise and chicken stock, then close the lid and simmer for 20 min. Add the Lyonnaise sausage (or Italian sweet sausage). Close the lid and bring the liquid back to a simmer, then TURN OFF THE HEAT and let the sausage poach, lid on, for 40 min (or 20 min for Italian sausages).
- Remove the sausage and cover with a foil to keep warm. Strain the stock, then bring it back to a simmer. Cook until the liquid has reduced down to almost 1/2. Drain the canned beans and rinse slightly under water to get rid of any excess starch, then add to the stock. The stock should just barely covers the beans. Simmer for 10 min, or until the stock starts to thicken. Re-season with more sea salt and pepper if needed. Turn off the heat, then add Dijon mustard and unsalted butter. Stir gently until the butter has melted, then set aside.
- Heat 3 tbsp unsalted butter in a small pot over medium-high heat until it starts to bubble. Add the fresh sage leaves, swirling constantly, and fry until the leaves are crispy, and the butter is browned.
- Slice the sausage and place on top of the beans, spooned with sage brown butter. Serve with crusty bread.