The Wine Country Online

A cook and chef since the late 1960's, Jack writes stories of his well-traveled working tours of the tail-end of the twentieth century. His first published book, Sonoma Picnic, a California Travel Companion, is available through the Book Shop.

Bou·doir (boo´dwär) [Fr., lit. pouting room < bouder, to pout, sulk + oir, as in parloir] A woman's bedroom, dressing room, or private sitting room.

By Jack Burton

The train from Le Havre was packed with people returning to Paris from a weekend at the Normandy coast. I slept most of the way, recovering from the rigors of an exceedingly rough night ferry crossing from the port of Rosslar in County Wexford, Ireland.

There had been one hell of a spring storm blowing out over the St. Georges Channel. The ferryboat was corkscrewing through a very heavy sea. I spent most of the evening braced at the bar drinking ale and trying to hang on to the kippers and ham I had eaten for lunch. There had been no hope of sleep, not until the ship had passed out of the weather and south of Penzance between the Isles of Scilly and the hard rock of Lands End.

I had been living in Portland, Oregon, and all through the sodden, drowned winter of 1986 I had been planning on this trip to Europe.

Dreaming through a season of work, wistful for springtime and Paris, I spent every spare moment searching through the antique malls and coin shops for discount French pocket change. It was a small secret among seasoned budget travelers in those days that if you were diligent in your quest, if you had some time to kill, you could purchase heavy French ten-franc coins (worth about a dollar twenty then) for ten cents or a quarter. Sometimes less!

The search for this small treasure involves hours of sorting through shoeboxes, coffee cans and biscuit tins full of foreign coinage--all the discarded souvenirs from other people's holidays.

By April I had amassed a sock full of these coins. A heavy sock full, and I came to wonder if the weight of the coins was worth the bargain price. I wound up lugging the darned things for a month through England and Ireland. In the end they came in handy, but I can now recommend that this approach to travel savings works best if you are planning a flight direct to Orly!

I was doing things the hard way.

I had also not bothered to call ahead and reserve a room at my favorite Parisian digs.

Dublin the day before had been a seriously mad scramble. The whole town seemed a bit out of sorts. The people were facing the prospect of a blackout due to a breakdown in talks between the Union and the Power Company. There were city-wide work stoppages in hospitals due to a breakdown in talks between the Union and Management. And, there had been deliberate stalling of flights at Shannon Airport due to a dispute over new radar equipment . . . .

I had raced about the entire day trying to make my way south by train to catch that ferry to Le Havre. Once off the boat from dear old Ireland, I caught the first available train to Paris.

There had been no time to phone ahead to my cozy little Latin Quarter hotel. I had made my way by Métro and on foot all the way out past the Place de la Sorbonne only to have the sweet proprietress tell me: "Moi désolé monsieur. Complet! Complet!"

At every small hotel and chambre d´hóte for a mile around it was the same story: "Complet!" "Complet!"

It was with a very heavy backpack that I was trudging back down the Boulevard St. Michel. Finally, after suffering numerous doorstep and lobby rejections, I found the three-star hotel L´Observatoire to have a room.

It was an indication of my increasing desperation that I even bothered to inquire at such an up-scale establishment.

When the jolly fellow at the desk said, "Oui Monsieur, F 250.00," I pulled out my sock full of coins and said, "Quel dommage?" showing him I have only F 150.00 to spend.

"Momment, momment," he replied, obviously amused by my straightforward and other-worldly presentation.

"OK! F 150.00 tres bon!"

He showed me to a small corner room on the top floor of the hotel. He explained that a woman, a beautiful woman, had checked out unexpectedly late in the day. He said that if I did not mind the rumpled and unmade bed, the room was mine.

This was no ordinary room. I accepted his generous offer on the spot!

It is not enough to say that this was a room with a view. A room with two large casement windows that you could push all the way open. This in itself is a wonder. And you could also lean out the windows and see most of the principal sights of the city spread out like a living map beneath you.

A wondrous view to be sure. But the truly remarkable thing about the room was the way it had been left to me. The covers on the bed had been thrown back to reveal a delicate dent in the sheets where the former resident had spent her evening's repose.

There was an ornate and mirrored mahogany dressing table that perfectly matched the bed. It was littered with a dainty potpourri of feminine debris. The whole scene was right out of the 1930's. A fantasy 1930's Parisian boudoir with all the trimmings, real and imagined.

I slept that night quite simply French. I dreamed in black-and-white. And about the pillow, I swear, there lingered a fragrant blue subtitle from an art film.

A Note From The Author

If you are planning a visit to Paris this spring, I highly recommend you call the nice folks at Hotel Observatoire Luxembourg, 107 Boulevard Saint Michel, Paris, France 75005 (phone: 1-46-341012).

It has been many years now since my memorable night, but I will guarantee this is still one great hotel. It is centrally located near Boulevard Saint Germain and the Luxembourg Gardens. Métro stop Luxembourg. Room rates about F 800.000-900.00 per night.



An Elegant Picnic for Bath or Boudoir

Tiny, delicate quail's eggs lend themselves to refined little picnics easily consumed in the bath or the bed. Poached or pan-fried and incorporated into or on a tender crisp toast round, they make for a stunning pillow-side presentation. Taken with the fingers, the following one- and two-bite suggestions deliver crunch to the tooth and a sensuous burst of yolk upon the tongue. They are well served by an accompanying common bowl of steaming café au lait, a plate of duchess potatoes and a generous side order of kisses and giggles.

Fresh quail eggs are available if you ask ahead at any truly good deli or market. They are almost always available in Asian markets. Or, if you are on good terms with your local sushi chef, you might ask them to order you a dozen or two.

Continental Quail Eggs for a Bedside Picnic
by Jack Burton

This is a refined little version of a classic Dutch breakfast dish called uitsmijter.

  1. The day before, purchase a quarter pound each of thinly sliced Black Forest Ham and Gouda cheese. Prepare some two-inch rounds of a good, sliced white bread and wrap them for morning. Find a jar of Sambal, the fiery Indonesian ground chili paste. And prepare a simple compote of citrus fruits and strawberries with a shot of gin and plenty of sugar.
  2. A recipe for baked duchess potato cakes follows. You can prepare your potato cakes the day before as well   then you are all ready to "rock on" with breakfast whenever you decide to get up.
  3. Slip quietly out of bed, turn on the oven and put in the potato cakes, fire up the coffee, and set some lightly salted water on to boil for poaching your eggs.
  4. Lightly butter both sides of your bread rounds, and toast one side in a large pan over a medium heat. Dish up the compote into colorful little bowls or cups.
  5. Turn the toasts and layer with sliced Gouda and ham, then gently poach one quail egg for each toast.
  6. Remove the toasts to a plate or platter and place one delicately poached egg atop each. Spot the eggs with a dot of Sambal and present the whole works back in the bed with a well-chilled sparkling wine and a "side" of Paganini. (I recommend the Violin Concerto No. 2 "La Campanella" . . . mildly stirring, but not too rowdy.)

Toad in the Hole
by Jack Burton

"Toad in the Hole" in my family was always an egg fried in a piece of white bread that had a hole punched out of it with a water glass. Traditionally an English lunch or dinner dish, the classic Toad in the Hole consists of a sausage baked in a Yorkshire pudding batter.

My presentation calls for either brioche or challa baked into a shape that can be sliced and trimmed into 2" rounds and/or squares, each about 1/2" thick. Home-baked loaves are nice, or you can ask any good bakery to bake some specifically for your needs.

  1. The day before your breakfast, slice and trim your bread as described above and punch a 1" hole out of the centers. You can use a bottle cap to punch out your holes. Wrap the prepared pieces and you are ready for the morning's cooking.
  2. To make my toads in their holes, I like to use a large non-stick pan.
  3. Lightly butter both sides of the bread and toast lightly on one side in a medium-hot pan. Turn the pieces over and crack one quail egg into the hole of each piece. Cover the pan and toast these pieces gently just until the whites of the eggs have set.
  4. Remove your toads in their holes to a plate, and present these morsels bath- or bedside with coffee, tiny fresh pork link sausages, and fat ripe strawberries.

Salt, pepper, or cayenne are optional. Any egg yolk dribbled upon the chin becomes the responsibility of the other partner! Forks, knives, spoons, or napkins are strictly forbidden.

Bon appétit!

Baked Duchess Potato Cakes

1.    Wash, peel and boil in salted water:
1 lb. Mature Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
2. Drain the potatoes and when they have dried out and cooled, pass them through a ricer or food mill into a large bowl.
3. Combine the potatoes with the following ingredients and mix lightly with a fork:
1/4 c Butter, very soft
2 T Cream or half-and-half
2 Egg yolks, beaten
1 t Dijon mustard
1 t Salt
1/4 t White pepper
4. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, then form this mixture into small bite-sized patties and place them on lightly buttered parchment paper on a baking sheet. This can all be done the night before your breakfast picnic. Cover the cakes closely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
5. In the morning, brush the patties with a well-beaten egg and bake until they are golden brown in a 400-degree oven.