Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraîche dip

How the other half – or 1% – lives

Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraîche dip

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not the kind of person who spends her time swanning around a Relais & Châteaux junior suite in the complimentary bathrobe and slippers. And I almost never eat a 6-course meal for lunch… and dinner, at a Michelin-starred restaurant, on the same day.

What is luxury ? It definitely isn’t the word I’d use to talk about the majority of traveling I’ve done in France. Mostly I stay in modestly-priced bed and breakfasts, or chambres d’hôtes – although sometimes they can be a little strange. Years ago, my then-husband and I were traveling through France, and had reserved a B&B somewhere around Le Blanc.

The greatest luxury ?

When we got to our room, we found ourselves besieged on all four sides by an army of stuffed animals. We were completely surrounded : raggedy-haired dolls from another century sat next to half-chewed bears of all colors and sizes, beady eyes looking on. A little creepy.

Weirdness aside, after many experiences in B&Bs with extremely talkative hosts, I’ve finally discovered that one of the greatest luxuries when traveling is silence. Don’t get me wrong : I love working with people, including my clients for cooking classes and walking tours, and my students at the school where I teach during the school year. But on vacation, I like to just be left alone to my own devices – or rather, books – no electronic ones, please !

All the driving

A couple of weeks ago, my Frenchman and I decided to leave Paris for a short but long-deserved road trip vacation. By road trip, I don’t mean that we jumped in our car and left Paris – we don’t own a car. David-Nicolas doesn’t own a driver’s license. Which leaves me to do all the driving when we do a road trip, which is exactly the way I like it, since otherwise I’m kind of a major back-seat driver.

Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraîche dip

After taking a train and then picking up our rental car in Mâcon, we made stops in the Beaujolais (about which I’ll be writing an article for the Société Culinaire Philanthropique this fall), in Lyon, and along Lake Annecy near the Alps. And along the way we took full advantage of silence… in a few swanky restaurants and hotels.

Along Lake Annecy

Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraîche dip

In our hotel in Lyon, sitting near the fluffy bathrobes were the complimentary shampoos and shower gels. I’d never seen a tie-in with a luxury brand like the Swiss jewelry company Chopard – the bottles themselves looked like jewels. And the indoor swimming pool ? If I were part of the 1%, I’d say not so much. But the cool cellar-like surroundings in the pool and spa area felt just right after a long day driving in bright sun and heat.

Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraîche dip

Along Lake Annecy, in the village of Talloires, we really did swan around a Relais & Château junior suite and its “beach” – for one day. Talloires is sandwiched right between mountains and the lake, whose color and ethereal beauty change with the day’s passing. The water was emerald green in the early morning, when a hot air balloon’s burners roused me from sleep as the balloon ascended from the lake’s shoreline. When was the last time I was woken by a hot air balloon ? Never.

Macaron and asterisk

Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraîche dip

And the lake was pure turquoise later in the day, when we began preparing for our second Michelin-starred restaurant meal. (A Michelin star is really known as a macaron in French, but it looks more like an asterisk in the guide’s pages.)

The restaurant ? Yes, real luxury. Ephemeral pleasures are definitely one of life’s luxuries, no matter the cost : it could be a bouquet of lilacs you buy at the market, or a gastronomic meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant – the exquisiteness is short-lived. And that’s not a bad thing...

Liver crisis

...Because very few people can eat a 6-course dinner every night ! After partaking of a lot of rich food and strong drink for days on end, especially around the holidays, people here complain of suffering from a crise de foie. A liver crisis ? It’s more like a typically French “illness,” according to this entry in Word Reference, due to an excess of food and drink. Of course the French would have invented an illness for that particular affliction !

Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraîche dip

So what have I been eating for dinner some nights since we got home ? Artichokes. They’re no less luxurious, but certainly less expensive, than a gourmet meal. (What’s more elegant than eating a gigantic flower bud for dinner ?) This small luxury is also good for the liver after a “crisis.” And the best part about buying and eating an artichoke ? The 99% can afford it.

Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraîche dip

Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraiche dip

Dubbed the “aristocrat of vegetables” by Maurice Mességué, who was himself known as the “Pope of Plants,” the artichoke is apparently beneficial for the liver. Mességué used it for all sorts of home remedies, and even made his own bitter artichoke root tea.

Simple steamed artichokes with crème fraîche dip

If you live in France, no need to pluck artichoke roots – you can just walk right in to any pharmacy and find the product you see here (right) to help with labored digestion. Or, in Italy, you can drink artichoke liqueur.

Globe artichokes are in season in France roughly from May to November. Most American artichokes are grown in California, and can be found in almost any supermarket.

special material : a large pot with a steamer basket and tight-fitting lid

ingredients :
- 2 large globe artichokes, quickly rinsed under running water
- ¼ cup crème fraiche (or heavy whipping cream)
- 2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar, or other flavored vinegar – I used elderflower vinegar
- a pinch or two of fine sea salt
- a few basil leaves, chopped finely

how to make it :
1. Grasping the artichoke’s “head” with a tea towel, break off the stem. Rather than cutting the stem off, this technique allows you to get rid of the most fibrous parts of the artichoke’s base, which will break off with the stem.
2. If you like, you may trim the tips of the artichoke leaves using scissors, about halfway down the artichoke. Rub the cut leaves with a half-lemon to keep them from turning brown. Trimming the leaves is pretty and may be useful for very prickly artichokes, but it isn’t necessary.
3. Place the artichokes side by side in a large pot equipped with a steamer basket. Pour boiling water over them, and steam the artichokes for about 30 minutes – this is a rough estimate since cooking time will depend on the size of your artichokes. To test for doneness, lift the artichoke from the steamer with a pair of tongs and poke a paring knife straight into the bottom. If the knife meets resistance, let them steam for 5-10 minutes longer and check again.
4. In the meantime, stir together in a small bowl the other ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
5. When the artichokes are cooked, transfer them carefully to 2 plates, and serve warm with the dipping sauce. (If you’ve never eaten an artichoke, watch this video to find out how.) Bon app’ !

serves 2

Tags : artichokes , Lake Annecy , Talloires , crème fraîche , Relais & Châteaux , Michelin , Chopard , crise de foie , Maurice Mességué


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