Wednesday 1 April 2009

Eating With Alice

Renee of Circling My Head fame, a blog friend whom many of you know and love, wrote about how she perceives our blogland to be rather like a 21st Century salon. You know, the kind of place where like-minded individuals meet to discuss anything from babies to Baldovinetti, from poached eggs to Plato and from marigolds to Mozart?

I love the idea, and reading her post made me think of one of the most famous of 20th Century salons. Presided over by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas at their home in Paris with its remarkable collection of modern art, the apartment became a gathering place for many intellectuals, musicians, artists and writers of the day.

Until I was given her cookbook for a birthday present by my mother a few years ago, I had no idea that Alice Toklas was also a fabulous cook. She compiled the book, with its mingling of recipes and reminiscences, while recovering from an attack of pernicious jaundice. It was written, she says, as an escape from the narrow diet and monotony of illness. Yikes, that was brave! I’d imagine it would make one feel even more ill. Not Alice.

Many of the recipes are too rich and unctuous for our modern day sensibilities. For example, this is a menu for lunch party at a house whose chatelaine was a well-known hostess and whose food was justly famous:

Aspic de Foie Gras
Salmon Sauce Hollandaise
Hare à la Royale
Hearts of Artichokes à la Isman Bavaldy
Pheasants roasted with Truffles
Lobster à la Française
Singapore Ice Cream
Berries and Fruit

What deliciousity! But can you imagine even trying to get up from the table after a meal like that?

I found a few rather more simple dishes in this extraordinary cookbook and have adapted them slightly in an attempt to make them a little less calorific.

This one is called ‘Katie’s Capon’ and it’s perfect for a weekend meal with friends and family. I use chicken rather than a capon, and serve it with baby potatoes dusted with finely chopped parsley and a simple green salad of mixed leaves and, if you have them, nasturtium petals to add colour and a bit of zing.


1 medium-sized (about 3½ pounds) chicken, preferably free-range
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup ruby port
½ cup orange juice
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Zest of 1 orange, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


When you bring the chicken home from the market, unwrap it and sprinkle it generously with salt. Cover and refrigerate it until ready to cook. Bring the bird to room temperature before cooking and don’t rub off the salt.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large ovenproof pot warm the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Brown the chicken breast side down, for 3 to 5 minutes then turn it over and brown the other side for 3 to 5 minutes.

Place the pot in the oven and roast the chicken for 45 minutes. Pour the port over the chicken and baste it. Roast for 10 minutes more, than add the orange juice and baste again. Roast for about 5 minutes more.

The chicken is done when the juices of the thigh run clear when pierced with the blade of a sharp knife, or when the thigh comes away easily. Remove the chicken from the oven, transfer it to a cutting board, and let it rest as you make the sauce.

Skim as much fat off the top of the juices in the pan as you can and discard. Place the pan over medium heat and add the cream, stirring up the crispy bits on the bottom. Add about half the orange zest and allow the sauce to reduce as you stir constantly for a few minutes.

Carve the chicken and transfer it to a warmed serving dish. Pour some of the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with the remaining orange zest. If you have any sauce left over, transfer it into a small jug and serve it at the table.

Do pop over to Shan’s blog where she hosts the What’s Cooking Wednesday for more delicious recipes from bloggers at every point on the compass!


Polly said...

I totally agree, blogging is like a modern times salon where those who think alike or simply are curious of others can meet and chat... that's why I love blogging, how on Earth would I get to know you and other blogger friends if it wasn't for the blog!

The chicken recipee sounds good. I think I'll give it a go...

Yoli said...

I love coming to your salon!

Renee said...

Oh my God that sounds delicious.

I'm starving. Did I tell you what I had for supper the other night -- chocolate covered almonds and shoestring potato chips.

You write your menu like poetry and you dust the food.

Seriously I am drooling.

In every way Tessa you are so elegant.

I love this salon and everything about it. The food, the pictures, the poetry, the art, but mostly the woman who runs it.

Guy is one hell of a lucky man.

There is a young girl that visits Rosaria (Lakeviewer) whose name is Lola and she likes cooking too and talks about it. I think you would really like her. She is a young woman and seems like a total doll.

Love Renee xoxoxo

Jinksy said...

Why do I always manage to find these mouthwatering recipes long after lunch, and long before evening meal?!Self inflicted, mouth watering torture.
And this type of salon beats the beauty kind, hands down. It is exactly the right description for the Blogland I know and love. x

Debra Keirce said...

What fun! Tessa, have you ever read the book "Five Quarters of an Orange?" It's a fictional read about family relationships, class distinctions, and a cookbook/journal is central to the storyline. I think you'd enjoy it.

Irene said...

A salon sounds wonderful, but a little bit exclusive and I'm sure that's not what you want. Salons were very restrictive places that not just anybody could enter. You were judged by certain standards and snubbed if you did not live up to them. It was a privilege to be invited to a salon and to be asked to come again. It meant you had arrived. I think your blog is open to all and that you are friendly to all who enter. Those who don't feel at home, leave of their own accord, don't you think?

Linda Sue said...

MMM YUM I would love to have Alice's dinner- being sensibly French (?) I am sure that the portions would be mouse sized.I do remember Alice's brownies, tea and soup from the 70's communal dinners...I mean , I SORT of remember...Great post! Enjoy looking at the beautiful salad- like looking at summer!
Love the chook under the arm of the woman with a mission. She is not wasting time. Beautiful as always.

Ces Adorio said...

Holly! When is dinner? I am hungry.
I love getting together with abrilliant woman. Do you want me to bring something?

Our carport is a salon but the men have it with a few women, and I rarely join. When I do I bring something to draw. Someone has to be very captivating to hold my attention and since I have my husband to myself at night, I let him have time away from me.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tessa, I love the analogy of a blog being a salon. My grandfather’s cousin used to host them in Cambridge, drawing together other poets, artists, writers and intellectuals. It’s fun to think that tradition lives on in cyberspace.

I enjoyed your painting too –humor in it and sense of time. In another country the hen would be a pocketbook. Fun post although now I need a snack.

Rosaria Williams said...

Yes, blogging is the modern Salon, especially for women who prefer to socialize sitting down and without sweating. I didn't know about Alice's cookbook.

I shall be back. This is habit forming.

Eleonora Baldwin said...

I love the Renee-Tessa salon! Did you read what I conjured up for it, on a weelky basis? Stop by my blog and see what's on the menu.
That chicken roast sounds delish, I will try it pronto. And the nasturtium blossoms thrown into the salad are my thing!
I love that Renee wants us to "meet," she's a delight.
The painting of the hurried woman on the beach is gorgeous, brava.

Lenore Appelhans said...

That is a great thought! And I'm happy to have discovered you :)

Every Photo Tells A Story said...

"I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!" When I read the name, I knew it sounded familiar, Tessa. I have to watch the movie again. P.S. The title is based on her famous "brownies." How about THAT recipe:)

Back to the program: I love the idea that Renee posts about. And, I realized that the great thing about the "bloggie" version of the salon is that we all get to be "heard." Because if we all were to discuss your post in person, we would all be yacking at once(lol)

P.S. Are those "mug shots" of your family?


Reya Mellicker said...

I'm a big fan of Gertrude and Alice. Gertrude said that being a genius requires so much sitting around doing nothing. I love that, and try to follow her advice whenever possible.

Carol said...

What a great thought and the recipe sounds so yummy.. I will have to run right out and purchase a chicken to give it a try. See not only do you provide great inspiration... you've become an economy stimulus packet too

Ces Adorio said...

I just remembered I came here a while back but did not leave comments because I was intimidated. I can't remember specifically why but I felt inadequate but now that Renee helped me be open, I thought I'd let you know, it was out of admiration for you.

Beth Kephart said...

Oh, I must know — have you read The Book of Salt, a very beautiful novel about the Stein/Toklas household, their cook, their food?

I second Renee. In every way, you are so elegant.

Pyzahn said...

I've been noodling with this blogosphere idea of a cyber salon. Gathering up a handful of varied and interesting women, creating a group blog and having each of us write a short post on our view of the chosen subject.

I'm hoping if I put it out there, it will happen.

You have a lovely blog and I look forward to returning.

karen said...

I love your elegant salon, Tessa!

The luncheon menu is amazing. I think I could only probably manage the artichokes, then from the ice cream onwards!

Beautiful woman with chicken under her arm...

A Cuban In London said...

I knew about Alice through Gertrude but was completely unaware of her cooking skills.

Ahhh, yes, we're like a little salon exploring our innermost thoughts in the presence of cybre-strangers :-). We're so wonderfully complicated, human being, we are. And I feel so happy about it. Many thanks for another wonderful outing and for the recipe.

Greetings from London.

ceecee said...

I have long been a fan of Gertrude and Alice. I even had a dream about them once which I incorporated into one of my art pieces. Your chicken recipe sounds delicious with the orange, cream, and port. And eating flowers...ahhh! When I travel to the mountains in Central Mexico I am always astonished at the vibrant yellow of the egg yolks there - it is because they feed the chickens marigolds! A marigold is a marigold?

Tess Kincaid said...

Yes, I adore the notion of blogging being a modern salon! This post is making me entirely too hungry. Is it lunch time yet?

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I feel right at home at your Armadillo. In fact, I recognize many of the friendly bloggies gathered here. Where on earth have you been hiding?

Renee said...

Who are the favourite mugs. Absolutely gorgeous mugs if I've ever seen any.

Have a wonderful weekend.


Love Renee

pRiyA said...

What a lovely post Tessa. I enjoyed reading it. I laughed at your illustration because it reminded me of my Granny's house where they would chase after a hen with a knife when they wanted some chicken.
And yes, I too love Renee's idea of a blog being a virtual Salon.

Lori ann said...

Oh thank you for the recipe Tessa, but I need to talk about those photos of your gorgeous family! Have you painted them? My Mother painted my portrait when i was two, I still have it, it's one of my best treasures. I love those photos!
This is such a fun and friendly post and comments, I love it!

Unknown said...

Right, so where's the invitation to lunch then?! It kind of makes the crisps I'm nibbling go all pale and blergh.

I love the idea of a salon - wonderful!

sallymandy said...

Really nice thoughts, about the blogosphere as salon. My life has been so enriched by joining this fascinating circle of people around the world.

I found you on Lola's blog, and will follow yours. Thank you!

Cynthia Pittmann said...

I also wrote about this idea, I love the literary salons of the past. Alice suffered "pernicious jaundice" and then contrived a diet high in fat!! Doesn't sound healthy...but I love the nasturtium petals you suggests in the salad. So pretty and peppery! Beautiful unique post. <3

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

I love the idea of a salon - how perfect. I have always loved the way women held sway in the 18th century salons in London, a rather wonderful exercise of female power.
great sounding recipe too.

Shanthy said...

Looks delicious

soulbrush said...

what a great post this is . my salon would be filled with all my bloggy friends from round the world, wouldn't that be fabulous?

Renee said...

Hey Tessa, dear friend.

Are you reading my vibes?

I am in limbo again for a while. Cat scans yesterday and two bone scans today after a trip to nuclear medicine. Blood tests and more test all months with a long wait for results at the end of April.

Love Renee xoxo