Fifth Anniversary

February 18th, 2012, is the Fifth Anniversary of this blog, Madeleine Moments. I’ve covered a lot of ground in those five years, and somewhere along the way, parts of this blog found its way into my first novel, Parisian by Heart; and so it has come full circle now, in that I post parts of the book here on the blog, and its main page has become the home for the book.

Marcel Proust is here, bien sur, as well as Vincent van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Colette…I’ve chosen five posts from this blog to re-post here, and five posts from blogs I am following, pour votre plaisir

First, the five posts from the previous five years:


The Yellow House

The Works of Charles Dickens

Marcel Proust portrait by Blanche

Marcel Proust by Nadar

And now, the five posts from other blogs:

If you are still with me, after all these fives, merci and see you in the next five, and beyond…


A Proust Sighting and an Anniversary

Today, February 18th, is the 2nd year anniversary of this blog.  In honor, I have a sighting to report (brief flashback: a Proust sighting is what I call it when I see someone mention Proust in a book, a magazine, or etc…)  I recently checked a book out of the library called Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling.  Here’s a quick glimpse of Liebling from the back cover of the book:

“No writer has written more extensively about food than A.J. Liebling.  Between Meals (1962), the great New Yorker writer’s last book, is a wholly appealing account of his “education sentimentale” in French cooking during 1926 and 1927, when American expatriates like Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein made cafe life the stuff of legend.  A native New Yorker who had gone abroad to study, Liebling shunned his coursework and applied himself to the fine art of eating- or “feeding”, as he called it.”

Liebling was apparently a man who decided, early on, that he wanted to do two things: write, and eat.  More specifically, to write about eating.  And in order to do that well, one must necessarily eat as much and as well as one possibly can.  What better place to do this than Paris?

So when, as a young man, he was temporarily adrift in life, as young men are wont to do, his father suggested a trip to France, Liebling seized the opportunity, sealing the deal with his father with a little fictional narrative that was a little taste of his later literary abilities.  (To read about this and more about Liebling, click here.)

Like Proust, Liebling spent most of his time in Paris, but also like Marcel, he occasionally made forays into the countryside.  Between Meals is the result.  And the first sentence of this book contains our Proust sighting.  I love it when I pick up a book, whose contents are unknown to me, and discover Marcel in the pages.  It’s like seeing a friend in a place where you hadn’t exected to see them, and only adds to your enjoyment of that place.

So, the sighting:

“The Proust madeleine phenomenon is now as firmly established in folklore as Newton’s apple or Watt’s steam kettle.  The man ate a tea biscuit, the taste evoked memories, he wrote a book.  This is capable of expression by the formula TMB, for Taste~Memory~Book.  Some time ago, when I began to read a book called The Food of France, by Waverley Root, I had an inverse experience: BMT, for Book~Memory~Taste.  Happily, the tastes that The Food of France re-created for me- small birds, stewed rabbit, stuffed tripe, Cote Rotie, and Tavel- were more robust than that of the madeleine, which Larousse defines as “a light cake made with sugar, flour, lemon juice, brandy and eggs”.  (The quantity of brandy in a madeleine would not furnish a gnat with an alcohol rub.)  In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world’s loss that he did not have a heartier appetite.  On a dozen Gardiners Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sauteed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh-picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters, and a Long Island duck, he might have written a masterpiece.”

Of course, there are many who believe, on just such a mild stimulus, Proust did write a masterpiece.  A meal like the one described by Liebling, and after reading the entire book, that is just one meal A.J. is describing, would probably have hastened Proust’s already early demise.  Or at least caused him intense distress.  One imagines him thoroughly berating Celeste for bringing him such a gastronomic nightmare (or gourmet’s dream, from Liebling’s point of view).

As an extra added bonus, this sighting is also a madeleine reference.  Besides my own madeleine moments, shared here, I have experimented with making them myself, which you can read about and see recipes for here.  What caught my attention in Liebling’s description of  madeleines, which he attributes to Larousse, is the addition of brandy.  No recipe I had ever seen for madeleines included spirits of any kind.  I have apparently missed out.  So a little googling finally turns up this recipe (from this article):

Adapted from ‘”The New Making of a Cook” by Madeleine Kamman (William Morrow, 1997)
Time: 1 hour, plus at least two hours’ chilling

1 cup unsalted butter, more at room temperature for buttering pan
2 medium eggs
3 large eggs
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour, more for flouring pan
2/3 cup sifted cake flour.

1. In a mixer fitted with a whisk, cream butter until white. Add 1 whole medium egg and 1 medium egg yolk. Place egg white in a bowl, and set aside. Continue mixing until blended. Turn to low speed, and add 3 large egg yolks (adding whites to the one in the bowl), beating after each addition. Add lemon zest and rum, and continue mixing for another minute.
2. Increase speed to medium. Add 2/3 cup sugar and the salt, and beat until all traces of sugar crystals disappear. Add remaining sugar, and whip another minute. Transfer batter to a large bowl. Wash and dry mixer bowl and whisk, then add egg whites. Beat until foamy, then add lemon juice and continue beating until very smooth and white.
3. Mix flours, and sift two-thirds of the flour over batter. Fold together until just blended. Fold in one-quarter of the egg whites. Slide remaining egg whites on top of batter, and sift remaining flour over. Fold all layers together until batter is perfectly homogenized. It should be soft and fluffy. Spoon batter into a pastry bag fitted with a small (about 1/4-inch) round tip. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter a madeleine pan (small or large molds). Pipe batter into molds, so they are three-quarters full. Bake until they form humps and are nut brown around edges, 6 to 8 minutes, longer if using large molds. Remove from oven, and bang pan on a countertop to release madeleines from molds. Carefully lift off any that stick. Place in a folded napkin to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter.

Yield: about 60 small madeleines.

As you can see, this recipe calls for rum, not brandy, but I can use the amount given as a basis for how much brandy to add.  Have I made these madeleines yet? Non. Will I make them? I bought the brandy yesterday.

Bon appetit.



Sharing Madeleine Moments

MadeleinesMy deepening interest led me to creating (with the help of my husband, Rod) a website devoted to Marcel Proust, his novel, In Search of Lost Time, and his city, Paris.   I called this website “Madeleine Moments” because of the most well-known scene from the novel, in which the narrator tells of eating a piece of madeleine (a small, scallop-shaped cake/cookie) dipped in tea and subsequently experiencing what he calls an “involuntary memory”; what I call a madeleine moment.   We’ve probably all had them, now here’s your place to share them.  Marcel first, then me, then you?

Here’s what Proust wrote:  

“And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings, when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea…And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in the decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me, immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set…and with the house the town….the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine…the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.”

 (Adapted from Swann’s Way, In Search of Lost Time) 

And from my website, here’s my “madeleine moment”:

“First, a little history. When I began painting in my early teens, I began with oils, on my own and learning from the book that came with the set. But at some point I switched to acrylics and watercolor, probably because they are easier to work with and clean up after and so therefore, are the mediums of choice in public school systems, where I began taking painting classes. I continued taking painting classes and painting on my own right up to the present, but only in acrylic and watercolor, not oils. This past Christmas I requested and was given a set of oil paints (Yes, Virginia…) but discovered that I was actually intimidated by the prospect of painting with them. Scared, really, that I wasn’t good enough to use them and they were difficult to use and I had no experience and had never been officially “taught” how to use them. I finally got a book that had exercises for a novice oil painter and told myself to just do the exercises and gradually I’d feel confident enough to paint a picture with them. So I sat down at my painting table, opened the jars of linseed oil and turpentine and squeezed some paint out onto my palette and… Madeleine Moment: I was a young teenager again, sitting at the kitchen table, painting a still life of some apples. The combined smells of the linseed oil, turpentine and paints had caused the scene to rise up around me, as Marcel says, like a stage set; I could see the plastic tablecloth design and the apples arranged on the table, I could feel the brush in my hand and the texture of the canvas through the brush, and perhaps most significantly, felt the way I did when painting with these oils. It was like being in two places, and two times, at once. An immediate effect of this experience was that my fear of painting with oils was gone, I felt as I did then- eager to learn and excited to create and not in the least intimidated. Of broader consequence was an understanding of Marcel’s madeleine moments and how they revealed to him a way of existing outside of time itself. “That explained why my apprehensiveness of death vanished at the moment I instinctively recognized the savor of the little madeleine, because at that moment the person within me was a timeless person, consequently unconcerned with the vicissitudes of the future.” Death becomes meaningless. Not bad for a little piece of madeleine.”

If you would like to share a madeleine moment of your own, or read moments others have shared, click on “comments” and leave a moment of your own.