and that probably arises from my indifference to the subject altogether.
- Lord Byron
The excitement mounts! An electric current zips through the apartment as the date approaches. We sit, night after night, glued to the television set, listening, observing, trading viewpoints and arguing opinions. The four of us gather every evening at 8 sharp for the news, following each candidate’s every word, every step. We compare the campaigns waging on both side of the Atlantic, the stream of candidates, from their policies to their faux pas, dissecting their political histories, analyzing their records, arguing their strengths, their weaknesses and whether or not we each consider their program, well, realistic.
To tell the honest truth, we also spend just as much time making fun of each candidate, each campaign move. As the evening news rolls to a close, the stream of back-to-back spots runs in glorious red white and blue, or rather bleu blanc rouge, and we love this part of the French presidential campaign. For one minute or two, this candidate or that one’s head looms large against the backdrop of searing red, crisp white or pale blue the color of sky, campaign motto splashed across the screen, La France Forte, Le Changement C’est Maintenant, Un Pays Uni Rien Ne Lui Resiste, Oui La France. Talking heads growling, barking, bellowing or mellow yet urgent, explaining as a teacher addressing a class of naughty children who refuse to follow the lesson. One son chuckles in self-satisfaction as he imitates this voice or that, following the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen, husband remarking on the insignificant, tiny mistakes made in editing while the younger son explains what is wrong with this policy or that. We sadly watch as the night’s series of campaign spots comes to an end, yet the discussion is far from over.
and the politicians as a joke.
- Will Rogers
Our sons are well versed in politics. We raised them on television and radio news programs, often eating lunch or dinner in front of a panel of political pundits, never missing the evening infos, reading newspapers and debating, dissecting, explaining and, as they grew up, arguing, thrashing out, discoursing on everything French, American, Italian, European. We each have our own strong opinions and ideas of what works and what doesn’t, who is right and who is not and often lock horns. So this year, with presidential elections in both of our “home” countries, it is particularly exciting! The atmosphere is charged; we are geared up for a long year of exuberant, exhilarating, stimulating, often frustrating but definitely animated discussion.
And the fun has already begun with posters of our “favorite” candidates taped to each of our bedroom doors, faux campaign headquarters (although who put them there I have yet to learn), Our imitations are refined and in order, our clocks and watches synchronized so as not to miss even one well-regulated campaign announcement or candidate interview. Everything down to the second is timed and regulated in this beautifully over-regulated country, but how much better than the wild free-for-all in that vast cultural and political landscape (madhouse, some would argue) across the ocean. Words are measured, accusations tempered, and, as we are taught, everything is easier in moderation.
J - 2 (or as the French say it gee moins deux), two days until le premier tour, the first round of voting when the field will shrink from ten to two. Ah, yes, we will miss the odd candidates, and we may be sorely disappointed in the results. We may even be driven totally crazy by the madness of the final two weeks when things may get completely out of hand, wound up two notches or five, but we revel in everything political, no matter how insane.
And soon, France will have a new President and things will certainly return to the old humdrum, the same old same old, le retour à la normale, the status quo. And then the next one Over There will just be getting started.
- Jane Austen
Bleu blanc rouge. Red white & blue: a little tribute to the fun and games that these mad, interminable, delirious, frenetic elections allow us but every four or five years. A luscious red, white and blue tart, worthy of our finest French pastry shop, worthy of our finest French election period, that brings together my little family of political animals as no election can. Or, well, at least not in quite the same spirit. A sweet pastry crust holds a voluptuously smooth, creamy, cool vanilla custard topped with a choice of berries: red raspberries, blue blueberries and wild blackberries. I prefer using frozen berries for tarts. Why? I find that frozen berries offer a much more intense flavor, sweeter, tarter, fruitier than fresh berries which gives wonderful results when baking. But use fresh berries when you can get full-flavored fruit all summer long.
Once baked and cooled, this tart offers sensational, winning, victorious results: tangy berries, sweet, creamy custard and just the right bite from the perfect crust. No analogies here, just a sublime dessert everyone will love. No matter their political bent or favorite candidate.
I will be adding this to my own April in Paris Monthly Mingle.
BAKED VANILLA CUSTARD BERRY TART
For the Pie Crust:
Or use your own favorite sweet pastry crust.
1 ¾ cups (250 g) flour
1/3 cup (40 g) powdered/icing sugar
8 Tbs (115 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened, cubed
1 large egg yolk
Scant ¼ cup (50 ml) milk, slightly more if needed
Sift or whisk together the flour and powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl. Drop in the cubes of butter and, using the tips of your fingers and thumb, rub the butter and flour together quickly until all of the butter is blended in and there are no more lumps; it should be the consistency of slightly damp sand. Add the egg yolk and the milk and, using a fork, blend vigorously until all of the flour/sugar/butter mixture is moistened and starts to pull together into a dough. If needed, add more milk a tablespoon at a time, blending vigorously after each addition, until the all of the dry ingredients are moistened.
Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and using the heel of one hand smear the dough inch by inch away from you in short, hard, quick movements; this will completely blend the butter in. Scrape up the smeared dough and, working very quickly, gently knead into a smooth, homogeneous ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes if the dough is too soft to roll out immediately.
Lightly grease with butter the sides and bottom of a 13 ½ x 4-inch (35 x 10-cm) rectangular baking tin, preferably with removable bottom.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap. Working on a floured surface and with the top of the dough kept lightly floured to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin, roll out the dough into a large rectangle and line the tin by gently lifting in and pressing down the dough. Roll the dough fairly thinly – you can see that mine is just a bit too thick. For a baking tin this size you will have dough left over. Trim the edges. Cover the lined tin with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This can also be done ahead of time.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Remove the baking tin from the refrigerator and discard the plastic wrap. Prick the pastry shell with a fork (not too hard or deep as you don’t want holes going all the way through the dough) and place a large piece of parchment paper over the shell and weigh down the parchment with pastry weights or dried beans, pushing the beans into the corners and up against the sides. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully lift out the parchment paper and beans, pressing the bottom of the shell down with your fingertips if puffed up, and prepare the Custard Filling.
For the Vanilla Custard Cream Filling:
3 large egg yolks*
¼ cup + 2 Tbs (75 g) sugar
2 Tbs cornstarch or corn flour
1 cup (250 ml) milk (I used 2% low fat)
¾ cup (200 ml) heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 – 2 Tbs slivered blanched almonds
Powdered/confectioner’s sugar for dusting
* Reserve the whites in a clean jar for Macarons!
Gently whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cornstarch and the milk in a medium-sized saucepan until blended and smooth. Cook gently over very low heat, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes until thick like custard or pastry cream. Remove from the heat, quickly stir in the cream, the vanilla and the nutmeg; whisk until smooth. Transfer the cream to a bowl or glass/Pyrex measuring cup, cover with plastic wrap, pushing the plastic down to touch the surface, and allow to come to room temperature.
About 1 to 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen berries; I like a combination of blueberries, wild blackberries and raspberries. If using frozen, place the berries in a colander and run very, very quickly under running water to defrost then spread out on paper towels.
Just before baking the tart, place the berries (less any juice that has run off) in a small bowl and toss with 1/8 cup sugar (or slightly more to taste) and a dash of ground cinnamon.
Assemble and Bake the Vanilla Custard Berry Tart:
Once the pastry shell is partially prebaked and cooled and the vanilla custard is prepared and cooled, simply spoon the custard into the shell, spread to smooth and spoon the berries onto the custard. Bake in the 350°F (180°C) hot oven for about 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove from the oven to a cooling rack or wooden board and allow to cool to room temperature. Serve at room temperature or, better still, chilled, dusted with powdered sugar.