Up and Down or Down and Out
Every year on February 2nd since 1998, a small group of close friends help me devour big juicy marinated artichokes over dinner in celebration of “Artichoke Day.” This year is quite a bit different from the norm for the obvious reason of Covid-19’s demand on us to confine ourselves to our homes, to be out no later than 6 p.m. (unless one has an awfully good excuse) or risk a fine of €135 and no more than six people around a table.
Artichoke Day is not a national holiday. It’s MY holiday. It’s a long story that will one day make itself into a memoir of mine, 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, I 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. Every year I have written about the dinner in great detail, with the recipe for the artichokes published so that everyone can enjoy them as much as we do. (Scroll down for the recipe!)
The recipe was originally my mother’s, but basically Italian in origin. It’s a good thing I was able to make note of it before she died (just before she turned 98), because she refused to divulge her Louisiana gumbo recipe (which we all loved), saying to all of us, “I’m taking that recipe with me to the grave!” And she did, God bless her soul.
In 2020, the dinner was just before the start of confinement, making it just under the wire. This February 2nd, my table will only welcome a total of four people and we’re celebrating over lunch, not dinner. The usual suspects will not be able to attend as normally they come from far and wide. Not this time around…nor did I go on the usual grand excursion to scope out the best artichokes the market had to offer…because the plan was thwarted by a leak.
SOPPING-UP, NOT SHOPPING-UP
Sunday morning early, about 7:30 a.m., I heard a stream of water coming from the toilet room only to discover a stream of water flowing down from the trap in the ceiling splashing everywhere. The room, even as small as it is, is filled with fine art photography, so the first thing I did was remove the art as quickly as possible before grabbing towels to sop up the mess. The inundation ceased shortly after. I was able to get it all to safety in time, get a bucket placed under the stream and lay down mats to sop up any extraneous splashes before heading out the door to find the origin.
I woke up my neighbors on the 4th floor only to discover they were having the same problem, so the leak was coming from the 5th and top floor. Up I went to the top level and knocked for a long time before the gentleman who lives there responded. He denied any culpability, but he wasn’t prepared for such a disturbance so early on a Sunday morning. Hey guy, neither was I!
Later in the morning, after stomping around in utter disgust and frustration, I solicited the assistance of another neighbor who is on the board of directors of the building homeowner association and who lives directly below me. She was quite adept at getting to the root of the problem, which could not have been from the building’s common parts, but clearly from the 5th floor apartment. When we went up there this second time, he didn’t answer his door. Was he really not there, or just ignoring us?
Fortunately, a bit later in the morning, the 5th floor neighbor came down with a friend to explain that he had cut off his water so there should be no further leaks; that it indeed was coming from a fault in his plumbing and would call the plumber in the morning.
This is only the beginning of what will be a long and tedious administrative mess involving the neighbor, the homeowner association, the plumber and the insurance agency. Ugh. I can’t wait. (Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice?)
To shake off the negative effects of the morning’s surprise leak, I took a brief walk with my friend, Janet Hulstrand, who is visiting from her French home town of Essoyes, also home of Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, in the region of Champagne. We did “the triangle”—down rue Vieille du Temple, left on rue des Francs Bourgeois, left again on rue de Turenne to land back at the same corner where they meet at rue de Bretagne.
We had forgotten that the annual winter “soldes” (sales) had begun 10 days ago (lasting through February 16th). That, the mild weather and the incessant confinement drew everyone out on a Sunday afternoon, to the point that the shopping streets were so packed with people that it looked like Mardi Gras…everyone masked, but not costumed…just in their usual smoky Paris colors of black, gray, brown, navy and sometimes a “wild” hint of burgundy, winter green or taupe.
Not so in La Nouvelle Orléans…where a different kind of Mardi Gras is taking place this year. There are no parades and no floats, but plenty of masks, and tons of colorful art…on the houses of the city! They’re calling them “House Floats.” Leave it to New Orleanians to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and never, never, never miss a good party if they can help it! Watch this fun video about it.
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.
Eating: pull one leaf off at a time and with your teeth, scrape off the artichoke pulp. Discard the scraped leaf in a nearby bowl. Keep up this process until there are no leaves left, leaving only the choke and the heart. (THIS IS THE BEST PART!) Be sure to remove the choke (otherwise you’ll choke) and then savor the heart!
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian shopping for Artichokes