Choked Up Over a Tale of Freedom
At our reunion luncheon in Tel Aviv last Saturdaay, one of our New Orleans friends brought home-made stuffed artichokes. I grew up eating artichokes in New Orleans, mostly they are served up Sicilian-style — stuffed like our friend’s, but my mother marinated them in her own vinaigrette, using lots of garlic, oregano and three kinds of vinegar. This is the recipe I prefer to make myself — the kind where the oil is dripping down your arms as you scrape the tender meat with your teeth off the spiny leaves.
Artichokes are more than just a “thistle” for me — they symbolize freedom. It was imperative to return to Paris from my few days in Tel Aviv to be back in time for “Artichoke Day.”
No, it’s not a national holiday in the U.S. or France — it’s a Leeds Family Tradition that takes place on February 2nd and has for the last 20 years. (There is a “National Artichoke Hearts Day,” however, on March 16th, not to be confused with my “Artichoke Day.”) The “Day of the Artichokes” is a story that I’ve told umpteen times to close friends. The ritual dinner is almost like a Passover Seder, as it’s a story of freedom and where the tale has to be told again and again every year while having a sumptuous meal (and of course, lots of wine)!
Funny that it should also fall on Ground Hog Day. Do you remember the movie, Ground Hog Day, where a weatherman finds himself inexplicably living the same day over and over again? There’s something poignant about this coincidence and in the spirit, part of this nouvellettre® repeats from the past, while other parts have changed…just like the movie.
If you can wait long enough, the full story will be told in great detail in the memoir I am currently writing…how five artichokes managed to change our lives forever…and for the better. Stay tuned!
A trip to the market is part of the ritual to find the best and biggest artichokes — the big Globe ones (cynara cardunculus var. scolymus). With a marketing cart in tow, I perused all the vendors at the Marché Popincourt (on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, between rue Oberkampf and Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, open Tuesday and Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) before making my selection and as is traditional, purchased five: one-half for each person plus one for me to eat during the next day or two.
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 that I bought is grown in Brittany and 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!) and 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.
Everyone asks for the recipe, so here it is if you dare to have your own Artichoke Day!:
Adrian’s 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. 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 one 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. 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 (use a turkey baster!). 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.
BTW, the antioxidants in Artichokes are very good for your liver and helps promote healthy skin. Artichokes are also high in fiber, calcium and protein while low in calories. They are fat free and cholesterol free, so truly a healthy food with which to celebrate! And the celebration is all about affairs of the heart, unless you haven’t figured that out already!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group®
(By Patty Sadauskas)
P.S. Special Announcement: Friends of SOS Help — Spring Book Sale 2017
Sunday, March 12th
12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Orrick Law Offices
31, avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie
Books and DVDs are only 2€! They have books in every category, with a ton of general fiction, young adult, and children’s books. Be sure to tell your friends about this great way to get inexpensive books, meet other people in the English-speaking community, and support our organization! We appreciate your donations. To donate books in good condition, simply bring them to the sale on Sunday. There is also a bake sale where you can get all kinds of fabulous homemade sweet and savory goodies as well as perk up with a little coffee. They would like to thank Orrick for generously donating their space to us once again. Please note that Orrick staff will not be able to answer any questions so contact SOS Help with ALL inquiries related to the book sale. Thanks! See
http://www.soshelpline.org/events.html for more details.
P.P.S. Lisa is Back! (Photo by Tom Reeves)
If you missed Lisa Anselmo’s talk at Après Midi https://adrianleeds.com/apresmidi/pastapresmidi/605-apresmidi-13-12-16 last December about her new book, “My (Part-Time) Paris Life” — and “how running away brought her home,” then you still have a chance. She’s back in Paris and on the agenda at three upcoming venues:
Wednesday, February 8, 2017, 6:30-8:30pm
Valentine Book Signing with Lisa Anselmo, Craig Carlson & Lily Heise
La Cuisine Paris
80 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, 4th Arr.
Looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day present for your book-loving chéri/e? Would you like some pre-Valentine’s cheer in good company? Join writers Lily Heise (Je T’Aime…Maybe), Craig Carlson (Pancakes in Paris), and Lisa Anselmo (My (Part-Time) Paris Life), who will be presenting and signing copies of their recently released books that share a common love of Paris. Enjoy an apéro—wine and pancakes!—and pick up a signed book for your sweetheart.
Event is FREE.
Monday, February 13, 2017, 7:00-9:00pm
Drinking and Reading with Lisa Anselmo
Villa Madame (Meet at the bar Le Cattleya Mademoiselle)
44 rue Madame, 6th Arr.
Meet author Lisa Anselmo in this intimate setting for a special reading and chat about her new memoir, My (Part-Time) Paris Life.
Cash bar, but no fee to attend.
SPACE IS LIMITED. RSVP to [email protected]
Thursday, February 23, 2017, 6:00pm
WH Smith Paris
248 Rue de Rivoli, 1st Arr.
Meet author Lisa Anselmo as she talks about the journey that led to her memoir, and how the strokes and slaps of expat life in Paris helped her find her true self. Anselmo will be signing copies of her memoir, which will be on sale.
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