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Twosday, Wednesday, Artichokeday

A bowl of uncooked artichokes

Cartoon of Lisa Simpson demonstrating 2's dayIt’s 2/2/22. There won’t be another date like this until 3/3/33. Later in the month when we arrive at 2/22/22, that date will happen to fall on a “twosday.” It’s also a palindrome day when the day’s date can be read the same way forward and backward.

It’s also Ground Hog Day. The little rodent meteorologist first came out of his hole to see his shadow on February 2nd, 1887 at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The story goes that if a groundhog comes out of his hole on this day and sees his shadow, he gets scared and runs back into his burrow, predicting six more weeks of winter weather. No shadow means an early spring.

Shot of Bill Murry with a groundhog, from the movie Groundhog DayGround Hog Day you might remember was a 1993 American comedy film starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell about a cynical television weatherman covering the annual Groundhog Day event in the Pennsylvania town who becomes trapped in a time loop, forcing him to relive February 2nd repeatedly. That’s how I felt during confinement those first few months in 2020. Every day was identical to the last.

And for me, personally, February 2nd is Artichoke Day. I celebrate it the same every year, just like one might Ground Hog Day, in a kind of time loop, and have ever since 1998.

Artichoke Day is not a national holiday. It’s MY holiday. It’s a long story that will one day be the opening chapter of my memoir, but much like Passover’s story of the liberation of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt at the hands of the Pharaohs, Artichoke Day is the story of a personal liberation from a failed marriage. What was one of the worst days of my life at the time, turned into one of the best days of my life: first the liberation and second, the annual dinners consisting of close friends and delicious artichokes dripping in a vinaigrette in which they have been marinating for many hours.

I grew up eating artichokes in New Orleans, mostly served up Sicilian-style—stuffed, but my mother marinated them in her own vinaigrette. This is the recipe I prefer to make—the kind where the oil is dripping down your arm as you scrape the tender meat off the spiny leaves.
(You will find the recipe below!)

Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean and are part of the sunflower family. Greek mythology tells a tale where Zeus turned his mistress, Cynara, into an artichoke plant when he caught her sneaking away from Olympia to visit her mother. As you see, even for Cynara, it was a tale of freedom!

Some say that it was Catherine de’ Medici who introduced the artichoke to France in the 16th-century, but it’s not true. She did, however, have the nerve of scandalizing the court when she fainted after eating an extraordinary amount of artichokes because of their reputation as an aphrodisiac! Today, Lyon is the center of production for the cardoon variety growing about 100 metric tons a year. But the large globe camus artichoke is grown in Brittany. The poivrade variety is grown in Provence and other southern regions of France.

In the U.S. almost every artichoke is produced in California. The town of Castroville crowned its first “Artichoke Queen” in 1947—a young actress named Norma Jean Mortenson (Marilyn Monroe!). A festival is held there every year in May, where they claim to be the “Artichoke Center of the World.” The industry in California was started by Swiss Italians and is now a $50 million annual crop.

Poster of Marilyn Monroe when she was the artichoke queen in Castroville, California

Tonight, the dinner will be held in Nice. I flew from Los Angeles to Paris, then changed planes at Charles de Gaulle airport heading to Nice, for a whopping extra 26€ on Air France. It couldn’t have been easier, because the luggage went straight through to Nice’s international airport. Just outside the airport door, the new Tramway #2 line was parked ready to roll. Within 20 minutes and one euro later, I was wheeling my luggage a long block home.

Immediately I turned around, headed out to the supermarket and scored artichokes for 1.59€ each—a real bargain. This is the first time I’ve hosted the dinner in Nice, but it might not be the last!

Adrian Leeds scores a great price for artichokes at a market in Nice, France

Today also marks the beginning of a two-step process of easing some of France’s current Covid-related restrictions on daily life. Here’s what The Local reported:

     Masks – An end to face mask requirements in outdoor spaces including in ski lifts and in the queues for ski lifts. They will still be required in all indoor places and public transport, while local authorities can impose extra mask requirements if necessary. So if authorities in ski resorts feel the need to reimpose the outdoor mask rule for cable cars or queues they can do so.

     Gatherings – An end to limits on the size of gatherings or crowds (currently set at 2,000 indoors or 5,000 outdoors) meaning large events like Nice carnival can again take place, while sporting events can take place in front of full crowds once again.

     Remote working – End of compulsory télétravail (remote working) for three days a week. It remains recommended for those who can to work at least part of the week remotely, but this now returns to being a matter for employees and employers to decide between them.

And on top of it all, February 2nd is the festival of La Chandeleur in France, so you can celebrate your newfound freedom with a lovely crêpe, if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making artichokes! (Photo courtesy of The Local)

A plate loaded up with crepes with whipped cream, photo courtesy of The Local

GERTRUDE BEERMAN’S, AKA ADRIAN LEEDS’, ITALIAN ARTICHOKES

For all of you who wish to have your own Artichoke Day, here is the recipe:

Prepare the artichokes: cut off the stem, chop off the top of the artichoke and trim the points of each leaf with scissors. Wash and place them in a big pot or roaster with a small amount of water in the bottom. Cover.

Steam: Steam them on medium heat at least 1 hour, more or less depending on the thickness of the leaves.

Meanwhile prepare the dressing*: 1/3 vinegar and spices, 2/3 olive oil—mix a variety of vinegars (I like Balsamic, red wine, white, apple cider) with salt, pepper, lots of oregano and tons of chopped garlic (never enough!). Be heavy handed with the spices. Then, add olive oil. Shake or stir well.

*Note: the dressing is to your taste…so be creative!

Final step before serving: When the artichokes are steamed to perfection, drain off the water and pour the dressing over them while they’re hot, ensuring that the dressing is filling the leaves. Cover them to keep warm and then marinate them with the dressing as often as you can for as long as you can. I use a turkey baster to do the job. Eight hours is best. (The aroma will fill your home delightfully.)

Voila! They’re ready to serve and eat at room temperature.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds with her mother, Gertrude (now deceased)Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

Adrian with her mother, Gertrude (now deceased)

P.S. Have you registered for our Expats in France Quarterly Financial Forum yet? It’s next Wednesday! Details and registration are on our website. Sign up today!

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3 Comments

  1. Pam Thomas on February 2, 2022 at 8:51 am

    Things I have learned in Paris. Never be tempted to buy a monster artichoke that is larger than the pot you have to cook it in. The artichoke will triumph, unscathed.

  2. Derin Gemignani on February 2, 2022 at 6:07 pm

    Dear Adrian, Happy Artichoke Day! I always love your discussion of artichokes. My husband, who grew up in Northern California is always reminiscing about the wonderful artichokes available there. And, I will never forget the artichoke I bought at a local Parisian market when I stayed at one of your properties. It was the size of my head, and it lasted me two dinners. I just use butter, truly delicious, and oh so French!

    Best, Derin Gemignani

  3. sharon on February 3, 2022 at 1:50 am

    I love artichokes and have been making them ever since moving to California from the frigid Canadian north in the 1970s. I now live on the Mediterranean coast where artichokes are plentiful–harvested in the winter. My mother in law taught me to make them in the pressure cooker. Ten minutes, and voila! they’re done. I can’t imagine steaming them for an hour! Who has the time?! I make the same dipping sauce my dear late mother in law prepared–mayonnaise, lemon juice, and lots of garlic. Perfection.

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