Saturday, September 22, 2012

French Country Vinaigrette Warms My Inner Francophile

I was at a very multicultural barbecue in Santa Monica recently. My Indian friend grilled some tandoori shrimp and tender chicken and offered jars of exotic licorice-like palette cleansing bits. My Michigan-bred, all American friend contributed the Spanish wine. A European actress toppling on high heels and batting her eyelashes contributed some stinky French cheese and crusty baguette slices. A pair of French siblings fried up some samosas and popped the sparkling white wine. I told them I had always wanted to visit the South of France, the smaller the countryside area – the better, and that I was a lifelong Francophile and that’s when all hell broke loose.

“You wouldn’t like it as much as you think,” they both told me.

The brother continued, “The people in the villages are not very welcoming.”

My American friend jumped in, “The one time I traveled to a small French village, I walked into a church where they were doing a traditional dance and they literally stopped and stared at me.”

“That hasn’t been my experience,” my Indian friend chimed in.

“Just don’t tell anyone you want to go there and you won’t have to hear negativity like this,” the French sister advised.

I hadn’t said a word since my original admission of always wanting to visit the South of France but sat there and watched the opinions fly. My innocent love of a cuisine and landscape had unleashed an odd stream of bile.

I was a little disconcerted by the way everyone was so quick to feed into the global perpetuation of cultural stereotypes and I like to believe that experiences in life shouldn’t be pre-projected but rather lived in the present from which conclusions can then be made. I also have never been one to buy into generalities about any person or place until I have actually been there myself and interacted one on one with the people there. Because of this, I have never been prone to these experiences that others warn me about but instead usually have meaningful exchanges that lead me to rub my head in baffled wonder about whatever these others are constantly warning or talking about. Maybe I am just lucky, or maybe we have the kind of experiences we imagine ourselves to be having because we create the outcomes by our original thoughts.

In any case, I wanted to rid the bad vibes so the next night I decided to make my favorite quickie French countryside-inspired meal, based on a classic dressing used in restaurants all over France that I turned into an adornment for a nice salad and a chicken dish. It’s my go-to comfort food meal that always warms my belly with good feelings.

I buy the French Countryside Vinaigrette starter from Penzey’s Spices, one of my favorite spice stores for its wide selection of creative starters, rubs, and spice combos from all cultures. The vinaigrette starter is basically a mixture of sugar, crushed brown mustard, salt, garlic, Telcherry black pepper, lemon peel, onion, French tarragon, chives, white pepper, thyme and rosemary. To make one dressing portion, I put two tablespoons of the mix into one tablespoon of water and let it steep for five minutes. Then I add 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar (you can also use red) and ½ cup of good olive oil and whisk the whole thing until blended.

For the salad, I halve about 20-30 grapette tomatoes and place in a shallow bowl with a sprinkling of ¼ cup of chopped, fresh basil. Then I pour about ¼ cup of the vinaigrette over the whole thing. Mix well and place in refrigerator. About ten minutes before serving, I will take this out, sprinkle a tablespoon of crumbled feta over the top and let it come to room temperature.

Pour the rest of the dressing in a small, glass, square, baking dish. Take ¼ cup (per chicken breast) of your favorite seed like pepitas, sunflower seed, or the like and sprinkle it into the dressing mixture. Then take a thawed, boneless skinless, organic chicken breast (or two) and swath it into the marinade, coating it on both sides fully with plenty of the seeds on the top to create a coating. Marinate this covered in the fridge for at least an hour. Then place the whole thing into a preheated 375 degrees for 20 minutes. When it’s done, spoon any extra dressing from the bottom of the pan over the chicken and serve.

I ate alone with a nice candle and some lavender tea and mentally toasted my two American, gay male friends Bruce and Tommy who have been living in the South of France six months a year in a barnlike home for the past 20 years with absolutely no problem.


  1. 1. I'm placing an order with Penzey's right now.
    2. I'm with you on the traveling and forming your own opinion.
    I want to hear all the goodness in all things. We all know what badness is. Tell us the good!!! I so enjoy your posts. D

  2. Love you Darnell! Glad you're getting some Penzey's goods, you won't be sorry! Thanks again for being such a faithful reader, I love your blog too!