Hers was a formidable figure in the kitchen, at a height of 6 feet, two inches she towered over a pot of braised chicken pieces as it slowly bubbled in a rich red wine sauce. Tiny spirals of scented steam brushed past her flushed cheeks as she swept a rogue curl away from her face and inhaled the dish she had effortlessly created.
This is how I imagine Julia Child would have proudly stood in front of her stove, poised with a wooden spoon in one hand as the intoxicating aromas of coq au vin invisibly floated into every corner of her beautiful home.
When you're a busy girl living in a tiny apartment in a buzzing city, it is regrettably quite easy to fall into a routine of bad habits...
Hitting snooze on your alarm in the mornings and then feeling rushed to arrive at work after oversleeping...
Staying up late every night only to share a few brief minutes with your husband who works nights in a busy restaurant...
Putting a few things on the table now and then as you rush past it, then realising at the end of the week that underneath that enormous mound of odd bit and pieces... is your table... Somewhere...
Rationalising that it's cheap and convenient to eat a whole world of variety of different cuisines in the city and because it's late or you're tired that it makes sense to pick up dinner on the way home, rather than cook it yourself...
Then you receive a gentle wake-me-up in the form of a reminder that a lady who you know only through a dog-eared and well-loved cookbook that has been splattered time after time with hot oil, chocolate, red wine and melted butter would have enjoyed her 100th birthday this August if she were still with us today.
And if you happened to be in the neighbourhood Mrs Child, I would have invited you inside to dine on my version of coq au vin, which I cooked in celebration of your milestone.
Coq au Vin
8 French shallots, peeled
1/3 cup olive oil
6 slices of rindless bacon, coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
8 chicken thigh fillets, cut roughly into one inch pieces
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
2 cups of red wine (Preferred: Burgundy, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir)
2 Tbs tomato paste
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
250g button mushrooms, quartered
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Peel the French shallots, remove any roots and cook in the oil until the outside of each shallot is evenly browned, then remove the shallots. Add the bacon, stirring until cooked, then remove from the pan and drain on paper towel.
In a plastic bag, add the buckwheat flour and chicken. Twist the bag and shake, shake, shake until the chicken is evenly coated in the flour. Remove the chicken from the bag and shake off the excess flour. Heat the remaining oil in the pan or heavy based pot, then cook the chicken in batches until golden brown.
Drain the chicken on paper towel, then return the chicken to the pot, add the chicken stock, wine (I used Oyster Bay Pinot Noir), tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary sprigs, shallots and bacon.
Bring to the boil, then simmer uncovered until the beautiful sauce thickens slighlty and the chicken becomes tender.
Finally, add the mushrooms and continue to simmer until they are tender, then remove the herb sprigs and bay leaves before serving.
Coq au vin may be served as it was intended- As an aromatic French stew in a deep shallow bowl with a broad soup spoon and a pillowy soft chunk of bread, liberally lathered with creamy butter to soak up the last tasty morsel.
Byron and I enjoyed our coq au vin spooned generously over a bed of creamy, smooth mashed potato and accompanied by a glass of the remaining Pinot Noir (after allowing the wine to breathe and deepen in flavour).
I sat cross legged on the couch with my bowl on a cushion in my lap, forgetting momentarily about the messy kitchen table.
The intoxicating aromas enveloped us as we talked with our mouths full of the delicious stew, unable to swallow before speaking as the next spoonful was loaded and ready to eat. If Julia were there, my table manners would have been impeccable (and yes, we would have been seated at the table) but sadly she did not make it to dinner.
It was a rather causal affair, relaxed and happy. The type of winter meal you see prepared and enjoyed in the movies and though I'd love to eat like this all the time as the chilly wind whistles outside our fourth storey windows, it does take a little while to prepare this dish and so we save it for special occasions.
Happy Birthday, Julia.