Je suis comme je suis


My first ever concert wasn't for a pop group or a cool singer most of my friends would have chosen but for an existentialist idol in her seventies. The audience consisted of mainly French people and I was perhaps the youngest there but it didn't bother me. In the auditorium which seemed both large and intimate, the warm up act took to the stage, a performer by the name of Yann Tiersen who I would later rediscover in Amélie playing on the xylophone, accordeon and numerous other instruments. But I was impatient to see the main act, a singer called Juliette Gréco. She came on a stage, empty except for some drums and a piano, beautiful and pale, dressed all in her characteristic black from head to foot. I remember she simply closed her eyes and began to sing, making dramatic gestures with those famous hands in the glare of the spotlight. At that time, she was already over seventy and the deep, sensual voice was rougher than in her earlier recordings. Yet no-one else could express the poetry of texts by Queneau, Prévert, Ferré, Brel and Gainsbourg. I no longer remember how long she sang for but the image that has stayed with me the most of is of her screaming Brel's "J'arrive!" into the night.

I have often thought back to that evening but especially after watching "An Education", the story of a young English girl who become involved with an older man. In many scenes, I felt as if I was watching myself; discussing Camus and existentialism, dreams of making it one day to sit in the cafés of St. Germain-des-Près and most all, listening to Gréco songs. As a teenager, I started to dye my hair black, wear thick eyeliner and most of all dress entirely in black. She gave me the courage to be different, not to care about what others thought and to immerse myself in post war French literature. I fell in love with the idea of becoming a philosopher like Simone de Beauvoir and teaching at the Sorbonne. Life was mine for the taking, to be shaped as I wanted to.

Sometimes I regret that the more idealistic part of myself has disappeared. I thought it would return during my trip to Paris in January but realised that I react differently to things. Places cannot make you the person that you were ten years ago when so much has happened in between. Yet some things stay the same; my hair is still jet black and there's the thick eyeliner. Whenever people ask me why I never have a suntan or if I'm a goth because of my love for black clothes, I simply reply "I am how I am."

There are no new photos I'm afraid, just some more from the Botanical Garden that I didn't have space to post last time.

Otherwise, there was the wonderful pound cake from Smitten Kitchen which I made again. I can only recommend it - recipe here. I made mine with raspberry coulis which worked really well.

I know I should finish with an existentialist recipe but to be honest, i'm not sure eating was that important for them. While it's true that Sartre and Beauvoir loved to eat in the best restaurants of Montparnasse in later life, the people in St. Germain-des-Près were more concerned with smoking and dancing to jazz in caves. So I'll post a recipe for Chrissi instead who asked me for something with rhubarb. Rhubarb tart is, of course, the most classic and obvious way to use rhubarb. For other inspiring ways of baking with it, there's Denise's star anis rhubarb, Luisa's rhubarb pie, Molly's roasted rhubarb and Tracy's rhubarb and strawberry compote.

Rhubarb tart (adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

1 sweet pastry shell (I stuck with the recipe I used at Easter which guarantees non shrink pastry).

For the pastry

1 whole egg
A splash of vanilla essence
50g icing sugar
200g plain flour
A good pinch of salt
125 cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

For the filling

1kg rhubarb (untrimmed weight)
300g caster sugar

1 small tub of mascarpone (about 250g)
100g cream cheese
100g double cream
2tbsp caster sugar

1. Wash and trim the rhubarb. Cut it into 2cm pieces and places in a shallow ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the sugar all over, cover with foil and bake at 190°C for about 45 mintues or until soft and juicy. Leave to cool, then strain it. I prefer not to keep the juice for the glaze because I think it makes the whole thing too sloppy but the choice is yours.
2. While it's cooling, make the pastry. Whisk together the egg, vanilla and icing sugar and 1 tbsp of cold water. In another bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add the cubes of butter and rub in with your fingertips until you have a texture like breadcrumbs. Add the egg mixture a little at a time and blend until the mixture sticks together.
3. Tip it out onto a work surface and press it together into a flattened ball. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
4. When the time's up, roll the pastry out onto a floured work surface until it fits a 23cm loose bottomed pie tin, leaving an overhang as thick as your finger. Repair any holes with leftover pastry, prick the bottom all over with a fork, press a piece of non-stick kitchen foil into the tin so it covers the pastry case and chill in the freezer for 20 minutes.
5. Fill the foil with dried beans, rice or pasta and bake in the oven at 180C for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and beans. Push the sides back up with your finger if they've drooped, then bake the uncovered case for another 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oven, trim off the excess pastry with a sharp knife and leave to cool to room temperature. Turn the oven down to 150C .
6. To put the tart together, whisk together the mascarpone,cream cheese and cream until soft and thick. Add the sugar and pour the cream mixture into the pastry case.

Best enjoyed on a perfect spring day.


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