East of Paris Bookstore

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Cuisine

In the last two months I've been either in France or traveling on business, so this blog has also been on vacation.  Now I'm back and will be filling you in about our culinary and other adventures "East of Paris" as well as north and south of it too.

France is famous for its cuisine ... everyone knows that. On the other hand, even there I have found some things to be utterly inedible. Some if it is personal taste.  Some of it is cultural ... that which is eaten in some cultures or time periods is detested and thrown out elsewhere.

In my culture (California) and time period (now), I've found a shatteringly spooky thing good only as a Halloween trick:  the "A.A.A.A.A. Andoillette de Troyes."  Think worms or possibly worse ... and don't let the "cute" photo fool you!

photo:  French-Property
We had been quietly minding our own business exploring the medieval center of Troyes in the Champagne-Ardenne region. After all, with a component name like "Champagne"  how bad can it get?  

Old half-timbered buildings surrounded the cathedral.  Some looked sweet with little heart shaped cut outs in their shutters. Others looked like they would suddenly shudder and fall over.

It was a pleasant interlude on a hot day. And, all too soon it was nearly 1:00 p.m. and time for lunch. Mr. Wonderful consulted his trusty Guide Michelin and we drove to the adjoining village of Pont-Sainte-Marie.

The restaurant highly recommended by the Guide was closed, so we found something small and local around the corner. So far so good. 

In a spirit of adventure, I looked at the menu and decided to try the regional specialty. Andouillette sounded like a little sausage, perhaps a petite version of the andouillie in Louisiana, which gave me no reason to worry. Besides, the waiter told us it was slow cooked in wine for many hours -- definitely a positive.

And then it came. And then I tasted it. And then I cut another slice. And then the slimy wormlike insides of the "sausage" spilled out. I froze. After a long moment, I look around the restaurant ... everyone was eating and talking and looking normal. I inhaled the aromas steaming up from my plate, clutched the table-top so as not to faint, eyed Mr. Wonderful and told him to order more wine as well as some bread and cheese.

Live and learn. As soon as we got back to our hotel, I grabbed my laptop and started looking for Audouillette de Troyes to see if it was what I though it was. According to French-Property.com
The traditional Troyes andouillette is made out from quality pork products - large intestines and stomachs - attentively selected. The original recipe dates back to the Middle Ages according to the Champagne legends. 

The delightful - and distinctive! - taste of the andouillette results from cutting the chitterlings lenghtwise first, and seasoning these thin stripes with onions, herbs, salt and black pepper. 

The next step is to wrap the mixture with pork bowels and slowly cook these typical French sausages in a court-bouillon stock for 5 hours. 
Then I discovered that this, not so delightful but certainly distinctive, dish is called "Chitterlings" in English and is referred to as a high treat in some Dickens novels ... no wonder they are all so depressing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

St. Tekla

Today [or on Sept. 24 per the Gregorian calendar] is the Feast Day of St. Tekla, the first woman martyr. She is also known as The Holy Protomartyr and Equal to the Apostles.

To tell the truth, I did not know about St. Tekla until a cold night last November when we arrived at the Orthodox Convent in Maaloula, Syria. Tekla was converted to Christianity by St. Paul and later sought refuge in the desert. Her legend says that a rock opened up and she was able to hide.
In daylight, as one drives the highway north of Damascus, rugged mountains completely hide the town of Maaloula [which comes from the Aramaic word for "entrance"]. But, a knowledgeable driver can pick the correct road and, after twists and turns passing through what looks like solid rock, the rock-face "opens up" and a town suddenly appears.
The monastic community, led by a petite and energetic Mother Abbess, was happy to great our pilgrimage group, led by Bishop Joseph of the Antiochian Diocese of Los Angeles and the West. After a brief series of blessings and many photos, we climbed to the sanctuary to venerate the remains of the Saint.

The sanctuary is part natural rock and part stonework.
There is a mysterious spring in the overhead rock that mists water down to a carved stone basin. The misting water is very fine and is said to bring blessings.
When you hold your hand above the basin it seems that nothing is happening. However, a combination of faith and patience brings success. It seemed to take forever before I felt the misty water drops, and then I did not want to take my hand away. I'm glad I waited because afterward I could not stop smiling. The same was true for our group too.
The monastery also houses an orphanage for girls. After we venerated the remains of St. Tekla, we all said the Lord's Prayer in a variety of languages. First, the girls and the nuns said it in Aramaic, the language still spoken in Maaloula. Then we said it in English, Greek, Slavonic, French, and Arabic.

P.S., Tekla is spelled in a variety of ways, including Thecla and Thekla.  For more information, go here or here.
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