Some years ago now I read the books and adventures of the American writer Susan Hermann Loomis, who wrote two books for which she is known in the Netherlands, a report on her kick off in Paris, restoring an old Norman timber house in the town of Louviers, adapting to French life and her start of a cooking school, called On Rue Tatin. The second book was called “Tarte Tatin” Reading her adventures make you feel as if you’ve known her for a long time. The press called her stories pure escapism. Susan was already known for her farmhouse cookbooks in the US. She has written a total of nine books. In her third book, Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin, also translated in Dutch, Susan shares her recipes with us. I never got it back after lending it to someone. (who?) Suddenly I got the idea to invite Susan for my series “gesprekken en gerechten” (conversation and recipes) Based on the answers she gave I conceived a recipe, that will please her and ofcourse my readers. I suppose that it
will have a Norman Dutch touch. Certainly by using lamb’s meat from salty pastures.
Who is Susan and what would you like to share with us?
I’m an American journalist who specializes in food and loves France. I have lived in France for twenty years, and I am now a French citizen. I own a small, exclusive cooking school called On Rue Tatin (www.onruetatin.com) in Normandy, and Paris where I teach technique-oriented classes in English. I have two wonderful children, and I live in a lovely home in the center of a French town.
You come from the Northwest of the US, can you give a description of that region and what is special over there?
The Northwest is gorgeous. Seattle is on the water. Portland is in a lush valley. Both cities are home in a certain sense, though France is my real home. If I had to choose between the cities, I’d choose Portland, for its food culture.
Nowadays you live in a small town in Normandy. Is there a difference?
Normandy has a very similar climate to both Seattle and Portland. There, the similarity ends. In Normandy, the houses are old, the culture is too. People aren’t terribly friendly, but when you get to know them, they’re great. Everyone loves food; the soil is fertile so everything grows here (except citrus), it’s possible to buy just about everything from the person who produced it. And it doesn’t rain as much as people say it does.The colors of everything here are intensely beautiful, which is why the Impressionists called it home.
You invested a lot of energy in restoring your house and starting a cooking school? In another life, would you do it again? Or would it be somewhere else?
I’d do it again. I don’t believe in re-writing the script.
Your prose and recipes speak to the imagination, certainly with me. How do you do that?
I write what I feel and I feel things deeply. I think that’s what speaks.
My parents were/are very French oriented. De last two decades there has been a shift from French to Italian cuisine, certainly in my generation. Do you notice that in France too?
Not at all. Italy is looked upon with a certain disdain in France, particularly when it comes to food and wine. Everyone here likes pizza, but I’m not certain everyone here thinks it comes from Italy. There are plenty of Italian restaurants, but again, I wouldn’t say there is any “shift” in allegiance from French to Italian. The French love themselves, and they love and revere their cuisine.
On French society. In your books you tell that you had to adapt to many things. Did you experience change in the last decades?
Yes. There has been change. There are fewer mom and pop-owned stores. Even in my town, there is less of a personal touch, as bigger chain stores, banks, and telephone stores have moved in. Supermarkets have become the center of things more than they used to be. But the farmers markets are still active, there are still many producers. I think the link with the soil in France is what keeps it fascinating and rich. As an expatriate, one is constantly being surprised, constantly learning.
What do you miss from the US living in France?
Sometimes I miss efficiency; sometimes I miss smiles on people’s faces. I miss the instinctive understanding of “systems,” from the postal system to the electoral system. I miss friends, of course, but I’m very happy in France.
Culinary speaking, you are very experienced in French cooking now, which one is your favorite recipe? And naturally which wine?
I don’t have a favorite recipe, though I love to saute magret de canard and serve it with fresh sauteed cherries. I love almost all French wines; and as soon as I find one I love, I get some to put in the cave, then move along to discover more. That said, I have a penchant for French whites.
If you were to start a cooking school in the Netherlands, what would you want to teach us? I know this is a though question.
I would teach what I always teach: first, the importance of buying local and seasonal, making the best choices possible. Then, I would teach technique. Then, I would encourage everyone so that they gain confidence in the kitchen, and have fun both in kitchen and at the table.
Last but not least, do you want to share anything else in my blog? Please be welcome
Thank you so much for the opportunity to be part of your blog! I like what you’re doing. Putting people in touch with each other is so very important. Encouraging people to shop for good ingredients and cook with them is both satisfying and necessary. Time together at the table is too. Congratulations on a great blog!
As said your dish will have Norman and Dutch components. This for me will be quite a challenge.
The recipe I suggest for Susan is a kind of navarin printanier, stew of lamb’s shoulder with vegetables, since it is Spring now and the Dutch pré salé lamb meat meets a French cuisson. The wine to pair is a red Bandol from the Provence.
Ingredients 4 persons:
1 kg/ 2,5 lbs lamb (from the shoulder)
4 medium sized tomatoes
150 g/ 5 oz French beans
6 stone leeks or spring onions
3 sticks of celery
1 bunch thin green asparagus
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic
250 ml/1 cup of chicken stock
6 tbs olive oil to fry
250 ml/ 1 cup of dry white wine
1 tbs flower
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground nutmeg
Rinse the lamb’s meat and dab with some kitchen paper. Cut the meat in 2 inch dices. Season with salt and freshly gorund black pepper. Remove the skin of tomatoes in the classical way, by using hot and then cold water. Cut them in four parts, remove the seeeds and chop into cubes. Peel the carrots and cut them in nice, not to small sticks. Wash the French beans, cut of the ends. Chop the stone leeks in nice tiny rings, cut the celery sticks in pieces. Rinse the asparagus and cut of the woody end. Chop the garlic and onion finely.
Heat half of the olive oil in a pan. Fry the lamb´s meat for about 10 minutes til brown. Add the flower, put in the chopped garlic and onion and fry for another 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and add the tomato cubes. Bring to a boil and leave to simmer for 45 minutes, lid on.
The rest of the oil is heated in a sauce pan. Stir fry the carrots and stoneleek rings, keep stirring constantly. Add the beans and celery and fry for another 2 minutes. Cover with the chicken stock and let the vegetables simmer for about 10 minutes. In another pan the asparagus are cooked for about 8 minutes til tender. Get the asparagus form the pan and put in a separate dish, give them a dash of freshly ground nutmeg. Get all the vegetables from te sauce pan and put on a ovendish. Keep everything warm in oven.
Add the half of the chickenstock to the meatpan and let it simmer for 5 minutes. get the lamb´s meat out and put on same dish as the vegetables.
Reduce the sauce to the half, taste it and if needed, season with some extra salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables and serve.
Needless to say that this dish will be best enjoyed with crispy bread and rich creamy Norman or perhaps Dutch butter, the choice is yours!