Dec 122017
 

Today is the birthday (1821) of Gustave Flaubert a highly influential French novelist who has been considered the leading exponent of literary realism in France. His name was a source of amusement in my household years ago because of a tale told by my late wife. When my wife (DB) was about 3 years old she had this exchange with her mother (EB) who was a French teacher at the time. They were tidying the living room:

EB: Deb, can you hand me Flaubert?

DB: Flo Bear ?????? (Eyes glistening, and voice ecstatic).

Since she told me that tale, I cannot think of Flaubert without imagining a teddy bear in a chequered gingham dress. I am sure he would not be amused – though, maybe he would, given the French/English play on words.

Flaubert was born in Rouen, the second son of Anne Justine Caroline (née Fleuriot; 1793–1872) and Achille-Cléophas Flaubert (1784–1846), director and senior surgeon of the major hospital in Rouen. He began writing at an early age, as early as 8 according to some sources. He was educated at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen, and did not leave until 1840, when he went to Paris to study law. In Paris, he was an indifferent student and found the city distasteful. He made a few acquaintances, including Victor Hugo. Toward the end of 1840, he traveled in the Pyrenees and Corsica. In 1846, after an attack of epilepsy, he left Paris and abandoned the study of law.

From 1846 to 1854, Flaubert had a relationship with the poet Louise Colet, and his letters to her have survived. It is frequently claimed that this was his only real love affair, and afterwards his relationships with women were either Platonic, or for sex only (usually with prostitutes, that he made no secret of). After leaving Paris, he returned to Croisset, near the Seine, close to Rouen, and lived there for the rest of his life. He did however make occasional visits to Paris and England, where he apparently had a mistress. With his lifelong friend Maxime Du Camp, he traveled in Brittany in 1846. In 1849–50 he went on a long journey to the Middle East, visiting Greece and Egypt. In Beirut he contracted syphilis. He spent five weeks in Istanbul in 1850. He visited Carthage in 1858 to conduct research for his novel Salammbô. Flaubert never married and never had children. His reason for not having children is revealed in a letter he sent to Coulet, dated December 11, 1852. In it he revealed that he was opposed to childbirth, saying he would “transmit to no one the aggravations and the disgrace of existence.”

Flaubert was a tireless worker and often complained in his letters to friends about the strenuous nature of his work. He was close to his niece, Caroline Commanville, and had a close friendship and correspondence with George Sand. He occasionally visited Parisian acquaintances, including Émile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, Ivan Turgenev, and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt.

Prussian soldiers occupied Flaubert’s house during the War of 1870, and his mother died in 1872. After her death, he fell into financial difficulty. His health declined, and he died at Croisset of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1880 at the age of 58. He was buried in the family vault in the cemetery of Rouen.

Flaubert famously avoided the inexact, the abstract, the vaguely inapt expression, and scrupulously eschewed the cliché. In a letter to George Sand he said that he spends his time “trying to write harmonious sentences, avoiding assonances.” Flaubert believed in, and pursued, the principle of finding “le mot juste” (“the right word”), which he considered as the key means to achieve quality in literary art. He worked in sullen solitude—sometimes occupying a week in the completion of one page—never satisfied with what he had written

In Flaubert’s correspondence he intimates this, explaining correct prose did not flow out of him and that his style was achieved through hard work and constant revision. Flaubert’s output over a lifetime was minuscule in comparison with his contemporaries, such as Balzac or Zola. Walter Pater famously called Flaubert the “martyr of style.”

Here’s some pithy quotes:

Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.

Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.

At the bottom of her heart, however, she [Madame Bovary] was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”

Are the days of winter sunshine just as sad for you, too? When it is misty, in the evenings, and I am out walking by myself, it seems to me that the rain is falling through my heart and causing it to crumble into ruins.

One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.

Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.

Doubt … is an illness that comes from knowledge and leads to madness.

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.

It’s hard to communicate anything exactly and that’s why perfect relationships between people are difficult to find.

The last quote leads directly to my recipe du jour. Flaubert was very good friends with George Sand who held frequent dinner parties in the 1860s and 70s with guests like Balzac, Dumas, Delacroix and Chopin. But Flaubert was her favorite dinner guest for a number or reasons, and they wrote quite often to one another about food. Sand had a number of digestive problems as did Flaubert, which they corresponded about . She wrote, “In giving up trying to eat REAL MEAT, I have found again a strong stomach . . . I drink cider with enthusiasm, no more champagne! … I live on sour wine and galette.” Guy de Maupassant observed of Flaubert, “Almost never did he eat meat; only eggs, vegetables, a piece of cheese, fruit and a cup of cold chocolate, finding that too much nourishment made him heavy and unfit for work.” Sand wrote to Flaubert often about her meals, and they frequently planned meals together. Once she wrote, “I lunch on two eggs made into an omelet or shirred, and a cup of coffee.”  Flaubert wrote, “I don’t like to eat alone. I have to associate the idea of someone with the things that please me. But this someone is rare. What is certain is that I experience a particular sentiment for you and I cannot define it.”

Christiane Sand, descendant of George Sand, collaborated with Pascal Pringarbe and Muriel Lacroix to produce À la table de George Sand, which they believe reflect recipes for dishes she prepared for family and guests even though we have no direct knowledge of her actual recipes, and not much to go on concerning what she actually cooked. She does say that she loved galettes, and this is the recipe (in translation and slightly emended) from the book. Fromage blanc is a creamy soft cheese made with whole or skimmed milk and cream. It is similar to some kinds of quark. It has the consistency of cream cheese, but contains much less fat. Pure fromage blanc is virtually fat free. Boiling the potatoes for only 10 minutes, hoping they will be soft enough to mash is ridiculous. Allow 20 minutes, and test after that time.

Potato Galette

Ingredients

2 cups flour
1 egg (plus extra for egg wash)
4 oz butter, cut into small cubes
1½ lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
½ cup fromage blanc
½ cup grated gruyère
salt and pepper
1 tbsp fresh thyme or sage, chopped

Instructions

  1. On a clean surface, make the flour into a mound with a well in the center. Crack 1 egg into the well, along with a pinch of salt and 1 cup of cold water. Knead the dough until smooth, and let sit for 2 hours.
  2. Put a large covered pot of water on medium-high heat. When the water is boiling, add the potatoes and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Mash with a potato masher, then run through a fine sieve or potato ricer. Put in a large bowl with fromage blanc and gruyère, mixing well to combine. Season generously with thyme, salt and pepper.
  3. While the potatoes cook, roll the dough to ¼-inch thick. Cover half the dough with ¼ of the butter cubes, then fold in half and roll out to the same thickness. Repeat with the remaining butter, then chill in the freezer 30 minutes. [I presume “repeat” means that you do this a total of 4 times].
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the dough into two 10-inch circles. Spread the potato mixture on one circle, leaving a ½-inch border, then cover with the second circle, crimping the edges closed.
  5. Lightly beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and brush over the top of the galette. Bake 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the potato is cooked.
Nov 242015
 

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Today is the birthday (1864) of Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa usually known as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator whose immersion in the colorful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century yielded a collection of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern and sometimes decadent life of those times. He is among the best-known painters of the Post-Impressionist period, much of his work instantly recognizable.

Toulouse-Lautrec was born at the Hotel du Bosc in Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse Charles de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1838–1913) and wife Adèle Zoë Tapié de Celeyran (1841–1930). His aristocratic family were descendants of the Counts of Toulouse and Lautrec and the Viscounts of Montfat. A younger brother was born in 1867, but died the following year. After the death of his brother, his parents separated and a nanny ended up taking care of him. At the age of eight, Henri went to live with his mother in Paris where he drew sketches and caricatures in his exercise workbooks. The family quickly realized that Henri’s talents lay in drawing and painting.

At the age of 13, Toulouse-Lautrec fractured his right thigh bone and, at 14, the left. The breaks did not heal properly and his legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was extremely short – he stood 4 ft 8 in (1.42 m) – with an adult-sized trunk and child-sized legs. Because he was physically unable to participate in many activities typically enjoyed by men of his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in art. He became an important Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator, and lithographer, and recorded in his works many details of the late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine Le Rire during the mid-1890s.

After initially failing college entrance exams, he passed at his second attempt and completed his studies. During a stay in Nice his progress in painting and drawing impressed Princeteau, who persuaded his parents to let him return to Paris and study under the acclaimed portrait painter Léon Bonnat. Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother had high ambitions and, with the aim of her son becoming a fashionable and respected painter, used the family influence to get him into Bonnat’s studio.

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Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, the area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. Studying with Bonnat placed him in the heart of Montmartre, an area he rarely left over the next 20 years. After Bonnat took a new job, Henri moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon in 1882 and studied for a further five years and established the group of friends he kept for the rest of his life. At this time he met Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. Cormon, whose instruction was more relaxed than Bonnat’s, allowed his pupils to roam Paris, looking for subjects to paint. In this period Toulouse-Lautrec had his first encounter with a prostitute (reputedly sponsored by his friends), which led him to paint his first painting of prostitutes in Montmartre, a woman rumored to be called Marie-Charlet. During this time, he discovered the intimate relations many of these sex workers had with one another. Depictions of these relationships become a focus of his work for a brief period.

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With his studies finished, in 1887 he participated in an exposition in Toulouse using the pseudonym “Tréclau”, the verlan of the family name ‘Lautrec’. He later exhibited in Paris with Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin. The Belgian critic Octave Maus invited him to present eleven pieces at the Vingt (the Twenties) exhibition in Brussels in February. Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, bought ‘Poudre de Riz’ (Rice Powder) for 150 francs for the Goupil & Cie gallery.

From 1889 until 1894, Toulouse-Lautrec took part in the “Independent Artists’ Salon” on a regular basis. He made several landscapes of Montmartre. At this time the ‘Moulin Rouge’ opened. Tucked deep into Montmartre was the garden of Monsieur Pere Foret, where Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of plein-air paintings of Carmen Gaudin, the same red-headed model who appears in The Laundress (1888). When the Moulin Rouge cabaret opened, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. His mother had left Paris and, though he had a regular income from his family, making posters offered him a living of his own. Other artists looked down on the work, but Toulouse-Lautrec ignored them. The cabaret reserved a seat for him and displayed his paintings. Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singer Yvette Guilbert; the dancer Louise Weber, known as the outrageous La Goulue (“The Glutton”), who created the “French Can-Can”; and the much more subtle dancer Jane Avril.

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Toulouse-Lautrec’s family were Anglophiles and although not as fluent as he pretended to be, he spoke English well enough to travel to London. While there, he was commissioned by the J.& E. Bella company to make a poster advertising their confetti, (which was later banned after the 1892 Mardi Gras) and the bicycle advert ‘La Chaîne Simpson’. While in London he met and befriended Oscar Wilde. When Wilde faced imprisonment in Britain, Toulouse-Lautrec became a very vocal supporter of his. Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of Wilde was painted the same year as Wilde’s trial.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Le chaîne Simpson, 1896 Litografi, affisch 87,6 x 124,7 cm   Kunstindustrimuseet, Köpenhamn

He is reputed to have started drinking heavily because of mockery over his physical appearance, eventually becoming addicted to absinthe. The cocktail “Earthquake” or Tremblement de Terre is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec: a potent mixture containing half absinthe and half cognac (in a wine goblet, three parts absinthe and three parts cognac, sometimes served with ice cubes or shaken in a cocktail shaker filled with ice). To ensure he was never without alcohol, Toulouse-Lautrec hollowed out his cane (which he needed to walk due to his underdeveloped legs) which he filled with liquor.

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By February 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec’s alcoholism began to take its toll, and he collapsed due to exhaustion and the effects of alcoholism. His family had him committed to Folie Saint-James, a sanatorium in Neuilly for three months. While he was committed, Toulouse-Lautrec drew 39 circus portraits. After his release, Toulouse-Lautrec returned to Paris studio for a time and then traveled throughout France. His physical and mental health began to decline rapidly due to alcoholism and syphilis which he reportedly contracted from Rosa La Rouge, a prostitute who was the subject of several of his paintings.

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On 9 September 1901, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate, Château Malromé, in Saint-André-du-Bois at the age of 36. He is buried in Cimetière de Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometres from his family’s estate. Toulouse-Lautrec’s last words reportedly were: “Le vieux con!” (“The old fool!”). This was his goodbye to his father. Although in another version he used the word “hallali”, a term used by huntsmen for the moment the hounds kill their prey, “I knew, papa, that you wouldn’t miss the death.” (“Je savais, papa, que vous ne manqueriez pas l’hallali”).

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Besides being a renowned artist Toulouse-Lautrec was noted for his adventurous cooking and lavish dinner parties. You can find many of his recipes collected in The Art of Cuisine. Poet Paul Leclercq wrote, “He was a great gourmand… He loved to talk about cooking and knew of many rare recipes for making the most standard dishes… Cooking a leg of lamb for seven hours or preparing a lobster à l’Américaine held no secrets for him.” He enjoyed both outlandish cooking techniques and unusual ingredients. For example, one recipe calls for three sirloin steaks which you slather with Dijon mustard, pile one on top of the other on a grill heated by a vine wood fire, and cook until the outsides are blackened. Then throw away the top and bottom steaks and eat the one in the middle. His recipes call for heron, squirrel, kangaroo, and the like.

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This is perhaps his most famous recipe:

Stewed Marmots

 Having killed some marmots sunning themselves belly up in the sun with their noses in the air one sunrise in September, skin them and carefully put aside the mass of fat which is excellent for rubbing into the bellies of pregnant women, into the knees, ankles, and painful joints of sprains, and into the leather of shoes.

Cut up the marmot and treat it like stewed hare which has a perfume that is unique and wild.

For the less adventurous, here is his sole with white wine.

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500g/1lb whole Dover sole
knob of butter
500g/8oz mushrooms, sliced
500g/8oz shelled shrimp
6-8 cockles
12-16 mussels
120ml/4fl oz white wine
breadcrumbs
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

In a well-buttered, enameled earthenware dish lay out a handsome sole, belly upwards. Dot with butter. Garnish with mushrooms sautéed in butter, half a pound of shelled shrimp, a litre of mussels, half a litre of cockles – previously well washed, cooked and removed from their shells.

Reserve the liquid from the mussels to boil with the shrimp shells and some water to create a stock. Pour a good glass of white wine over the sole and then cover with the strained stock. Put it on the fire and let it simmer uncovered for 20 to 40 minutes, according to the size of the sole, and let the sauce reduce. At the last moment, dot the sole with butter, sprinkle with breadcrumbs worked with parsley, salt, pepper; use very little salt because of the salted liquid of the mussels.