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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Gastronomic Near-Death Experience in Paris

Now I know it was eons ago, but with the weather being as it is, I thought you would like to learn about my near-death experience. Like many near-deaths of this kind, it took place in Paris. It was a gastronomic near-death event.


We had nine people over to dinner on Christmas Eve. The menu had been planned ages ago -- definitely foie gras with Sauternes, caviar and blini, definitely a goose, definitely salad (that was for me, because you just can't get enough fris?e or raddicchio lettuce, ever) and puddings and chocolate mousse.


I had already brought the caviar over (admittedly stashed in a few hidden pockets of my overcoat -- when you have people panting for the stuff, you can't take risks being asked to contribute to the Customs Officers Christmas Caviar Fund).


We hit the St. Denis markets in the morning. First to the poultry market, where the rafters were thick with birds. If you are a vegetarian, it's not a pretty sight. We chose our goose, complete with too many feathers, and wisely took a long walk to buy all the other ingredients while the poultry man "prepared" our bird. I didn't want to know the details, but I hopefully assumed he would make it look more like a meal than a family pet.


The goose took forever to cook, but tasted wonderful, the pur?e was a dream and what with all that foie gras, all that caviar and just a few too many little puddings, I was feeling deliciously full.


Or as my uncle Walt would say, "I was tightening up, real nice."


Naturally, the morning after I simply had to reheat a pudding with a large dollop of sour cream. Just a little something to tide me over before we went to brunch.


That lasted about five hours (although we did all have to go and lie down for just a teensy bit to recover from all that marvelous seafood) and we just had time to race home, powder our noses and go out to dinner. A dinner of foie gras and toast and a little confit de canard.


And it was while we were walking along to Jean-Fran?ois's apartment that the sudden thought came to me: "If I eat anything more, I will blow up." Explode. Right there on the sidewalk, in full view of the diners in the restaurant who were tucking into a cheese fondue.


That evening passed in a haze of champagne. Did I really lift the knife and plunge it into the heart of the liver and spread it over the toast? Did I have seconds and thirds? Sad but true, I did. It was just too delicious to resist. All night I lay on the bed groaning and when I finally dozed I had vivid nightmares about geese.


Nothing for breakfast the next morning, you will be relieved to know. In fact, for the whole of that day I took my meals in literary forms only.


I was re-reading a book by the American writer and gourmand A.J. Liebling, a genial man who wrote a memoir of life in France called "Between Meals, An Appetite for Paris." His reminiscences gave me heart. He ate more than I ever did. And rued the fact that gastronomic life was disintegrating so rapidly.


"Before the First World War, the doctors of France had been a submissive and well-mannered breed, who recognized that their role was to facilitate gluttony, not discourage it. They returned to civilian life full of a new sense of authority, gained from the habit of amputation. Instead of continuing, as in the past, to alleviate indigestion, assuage dyspepsia, and solace attacks of gout, they proposed the amputation of three or four courses from their patients' habitual repasts ... Oyster and a steak, a bit of langouste and a mixed grill, a salade ni?oise and a lamb chop -- it's to die of monotony."


We wouldn't agree perhaps, especially when it comes to oysters and langouste, but perhaps death by monotony is far better than death by gluttony. As solace, I offer the mashed potato dish from Christmas. Tasty but simple. You cannot manage the fresh rosemary here, so use dried. Nancy Verde Barr, who developed this recipe, suggests you rinse it with hot water before mixing it in the butter to release the flavor.





Parmesan Mashed Potatoes


4 tablespoons softened butter


1 heaped teaspoon dried rosemary


1 kilogram potatoes, peeled and diced


1/2 cup milk, warmed


1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Ground black pepper





Blend the softened butter and the rosemary in a bowl and set aside. In a saucepan cover the diced potatoes with water and bring to the boil. Cook until soft. Drain and then return to the pan. Next add the warm milk, the freshly grated Parmesan and mash away. Some people use a food processor with the plastic paddle, others prefer to do it by hand. Watch the food processor method, if you aren't careful you will mash the potatoes to the consistency of glue. A little lumpy is fine by me.


Transfer to a serving dish, grind fresh pepper all over and add the rosemary butter in a pert round.