The filming of my 29th House Hunters International episode went very well, in spite of the cold, rainy weather. The theme of the show…”It’s Paris. You don’t come here for the weather.” It was the constant joke as our umbrellas opened and closed throughout the filming.
I’ve agreed to do two more this month and another one in April. Whoa! It’s a good thing they are so much fun to do! I might consider giving up my day job just to roam the streets of Paris with a film crew — many of whom I’ve come to know well over the years of doing the shows.
This filming, I specifically requested that I not be required on February 2nd — that they should film other scenes where I wasn’t needed on that one day. That’s because every February 2nd since 1997, I celebrate “Artichoke Day” mostly with the same group of friends happily willing to participate. Some even come from far and wide to be a part of the artichoke adventure.
No, it’s not a national holiday in the U.S. or France — it’s a Leeds Family Tradition. However, on March 16th there IS a “National Artichoke Hearts Day, which has nothing to do with my day. “According to the California Artichoke Advisory Board, artichokes are a good source of antioxidants, vitamin C, folate and magnesium. The antioxidants in artichokes are very good for your liver and help promote healthy skin. Artichokes are also high in fiber, calcium and protein while low in calories. For all of these reasons, along with being fat-free and cholesterol free, artichokes are truly a healthy and delicious food to celebrate!” (Source: nationaldaycalendar.com/national-artichoke-hearts-day-march-16/ )
Those close to me know the true story — how five artichokes managed to change our lives forever…and for the better. There is an entire chapter devoted to the story in the memoir I’m currently writing, so if you have patience, you’ll get to know it, too. It’s a story of freedom and where the tale has to be told again and again every year while having a sumptuous dinner (and of course, lots of wine)!
Every year at the dinner, it is tradition to tell the story, much like telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt told every Passover at the seder table. Just as I’m about to tell the story, one of the dinner guests inevitably starts to sing, “Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh, mi-kol ha-leylot?” (Why is this night different from all the other nights?) Which of course, always gets a big laugh.
The morning of February 2nd, I started out early with marketing cart in tow to the Marché Popincourt on boulevard Richard-Lenoir between the rues Oberkampf and Jean-Pierre Timbaud in the 11th. I walked the entire length of the market down all the aisles to peruse the artichokes and see which stand had the best ones. As luck would have it, the first stand had the biggest and best ones — globe artichokes, so I returned to the beginning of the market. These are the big round green variety — the official name is “cynara cardunculus.”
It turns out that the Dutch first introduced the edible thistles to England, where Henry VIII grew them in his garden at Newhall as long ago as 1530. French immigrants brought them to Louisiana in the 19th-century and to California by the Spanish. Today, they are grown in the Mediterranean basin, South America, China, South Africa and the U.S. — 100% of which are grown in California. Castroville in Monterey County is the “The Artichoke Center of the World” and holds the annual Castroville Artichoke Festival in May. In South Africa, they are grown in the small town of Parys along the Vaal River. My affiliation with artichokes comes from my Louisiana roots and my mother’s love for them. My recipe is basically hers.
I asked the vendor for five. He weighed them out and gave me a price of close to 30€. I handed him a 20-euro bill and a 10-euro bill, but then much to my surprise, he returned the 10-euro bill and said, it was a special treat for today! Little did he know how special it was!
Then, I set out to purchase the rest of the meal: two chickens from Bresse known to be the “queen of poultry, the poultry of kings.” The butcher cut off their heads, their feet and removed their offals (the livers, hearts and gizzards). He then gave them a bath with a blow torch to remove any remaining feathers, packaged them up and charged me a small fortune for them (11.95€ per kilo). To serve as a side dish, I purchased mushrooms of all sorts and for dessert, fresh fruit: grapes, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. The cart weighed a ton by the time I was finished buying it all, but thank goodness for my six-wheel Rolser that mounts the stairs easily.
So, while the film crew was busy on the streets of Paris doing “B-Roll” and “Back Story,” the one dinner a year that I cook was underway in the kitchen that is normally kept very pristeen and the refrigerator that is normally empty except for drinks and condiments was stuffed to the brim. Dinner was made, the guests arrived, the champagne was poured, the story was told and the artichokes were served; one-half to each person (leaving one for the next day). We each had two napkins: a cloth one to protect our clothing and a thick paper one to absorb the vinaigrette that dripped down our arms while scraping the pulp from each leaf with our teeth. In the center of the table was placed a big bowl to dispose of the eaten leaves, with everyone tossing them in one by one. When we managed to devour all the leaves, we reveled in the hearts — the true prize of it all, well worth the effort.
For all of you who wish to have your own Artichoke Day, here is the recipe:
Artichoke Day Artichokes, a recipe by Adrian Leeds
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, one teaspoon of sugar, 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 removed the choke (otherwise you’ll choke!) and then savor the heart.
I landed in Nice yesterday — to warmer, sunnier weather — to do a property search for clients this week wanting a “pied-à-terre” in the Mediterranean town…and guess what I had with me on the train to eat?
The last remaining artichoke, of course!
A la prochaine,
Editor of Parler Nice
Adrian Leeds Group
(presenting the artichoke dinner)
P.S. Being in Nice reminds me to remind you that my apartment here, Le Matisse, is available for stays by friends of the Adrian Leeds Group. Visit the site or make your request with
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