Sunday, April 10, 2011

How those who produce works of genius don't spend their days--per Proust

THAT INNER CIRCLING SUN VIII. November 7, 2010.  Poem by Judy Hogan

Those who produce works of genius are not those who spend their days in the most refined company, whose conversation is the most brilliant, or whose culture is the broadest; they are those who have the ability to stop living for themselves and make a mirror of their personality, so that their lives, however nondescript they may be socially, or even in a way intellectually, are reflected in it. For genius lies in reflective power, and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected.
–Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, translated by James Grieve, p, 129.

When I was younger, late thirties, I learned
that inside me was an inner circling sun
guarded by a dragon. The image stuck.
I’ve tamed the dragon, but no one else has.
It means I’ll be alone now. Odysseus
has left and returned many times, and yet
I remain alone. He could make one more
homecoming, but it seems unlikely.

Meantime, my spirit gathered up the four
corners of my archetype, like folding a
sheet and putting it away. It was a guide,
a series of stepping stones or street lights
I followed along a dark way, from one
pool of light to the next, learning to trust
what lay ahead when I had to walk blind,
one step at a time.

It is worth everything
to stand where I stand now. Even as darkness
grows more gloomy in the outer world,
where I once worked with so much passion
and energy, the light in my center burns
brighter, intensifies its swing around its
orbit. Can my written words help?

A black man I’d never met before,
working near me at the polling place,
says that if I write books, "We’ll read

We don’t know how our words
will survive all the hazards of the
twenty-first century, when our human
race has yet to learn care for our planet
village or to imagine the inner landscapes
of people different from ourselves. A few
spirits who can see are all that is needed
to turn us from the weather disasters with
which our polluted air and sea begin
to punish us.

Poverty makes friendships
stronger. We still, sadly, learn the hard way,
a truth Sophocles knew centuries ago:
we have to suffer before we learn. Wiser,
we pay more attention to our inner Spirit’s
words and to the love our fellow beings
give us. Even dogs, cats, and chickens
sometimes can’t get through. Obliviousness
is not the worst crime, but it can damage
the love others bear us when we don’t
deserve it.

My path is clear now, and straight.
My all-too-human body has its twinges
and its doubts about all that I still plan
to accomplish, which is why that inner
sun must carry the workload and egg me on.

My greatness is an unknown, and yet I
feel it settle comfortably into the driver’s
seat, turn the key, and tell all the other
passengers: "We’re off."

Detaille - Le Rêve

Here's a link to Detaille's painting "The Dream." It's pretty wild!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

classic cuisine graced the guermantes salon

on the later pages of the guermantes way we noted a dinner at madame and the duke de guermantes where proust encounters a number of classic french dishes.

proust further relays how “madame de guermantes vocabulary was richly flavored as the dishes one might come across in the delicious books of pampille, but which have in real life become so rare; dishes in which the jellies, the butter, the gravy, the quenelles are al genuine and unalloyed, in which even the salt is brought specially from the salt-marshes of brittany; from her accent, her choice of words, one felt that the basis of the duchess’s came directly from the guermantes.”

elaborating he says “i sipped one of the yquems which lay concealed in the guermantes cellar. i tasted ortolans dressed according to a variety of recipes judiciously elaborated and modified by the duke himself.”

proust dines on puree of chestnuts, bouchees ala reine, green asparagus “grown in the open air” with mousseline sauce, and chicken financiere. in tomes of cooking instruction this last classic dish is described as chicken braised in a rich wine sauce enriched with foie gras, olives, ham, truffles, mushrooms, possibly sweetbreads too and served in a baked puff pastry case called a vol au vent. alas, the recipe below (with mushrooms and smoked pork but minus the other embellishments) is close to the one i brought to our spring break feast, a week or so ago.

after this dinner despite proust’s proclamation that nothing beyond, ever besides “in summer a glass of orangeade in the darkness of the little rectangular strip of garden outside,” is served, he manages to procure “the addition to this orangeade of a jug containing the juice of stewed cherries or stewed pears.” but then he is quite displeased as his pleasure is marred by the covetousness of the prince d’agrigente to “taste a little of it themselves.”

chicken financiere with madeira and mushrooms

the term financier can mean a style, a sauce, or a dish

4-5 large chicken thighs, cut in 1 inch cubes

4 inch thick slices of smoked pork loin

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup madeira wine

2 cups chicken stock

1.5 oz glace de poulet gold, a rich solid jelly that enriches the sauce (available at whole foods and southern season and weaver street market)

2 cups sliced white mushrooms (champignon de paris if we were in paris)

1 cup diced onions

1 sprig thyme

5 bay leaves

first get your mise en place in order. this means a place for everything and everything in its place. in other words, organization!

chop your vegetables, then your chicken and gather all remaining ingredients.

then and only then, place the butter in a large, wide pan (2 qt.) over medium heat.

when the butter is melted, hot, add the chicken, a handful at a time.

brown the chicken cubes well to give a deep color and flavor to the finished dish.

once well browned remove the chicken to a bowl or platter.

add in the onions and mushrooms and sauté till slightly brown, but not terribly.

add the flour to make a roux, and stir well and frequently over low heat until an even light brown color is obtained. the roux should take on a light caramel color and give off the scent of roasted nuts.

swirl in the madeira, this is called "deglazing the pan" and stir up any browned bits.

add the chicken, thyme, bay leaves and stock, continuing to stir well as the sauce thickens.

bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to gently simmer for about a 45 minutes.

serve with a wonderful rustic bread.