“A little glass of wine is a great buffer.”–––Sally Boyle
My recurring problem, throughout adult life, has been figuring out what to cook for dinner. This seems rather silly because if you hand me a restaurant menu I can decide within seconds what will feed my hunger. My husband invariably asks what I am ordering before he makes up his own mind. He knows he will want it too. Especially after he orders something else and then sees the better choice in front of me.
Coming up with a plan for cooking at home has always put me in a quandary. Over the years I have relied upon friends whose culinary skills seem effortless, nurturing, even joyful. The ones I count on know exactly what they are making at the very moment when I am asking them! I’ve come to believe this kind of decision-making is inborn. It bypassed my genetic makeup. Despite 39 years of marriage and two children, daily cooking continues to be a troublesome hurdle.
During our years overseas I have had many mentoring friends who taught me how to prepare simple, delicious one-dish meals to nourish a growing, hungry family. Some of those meals became staples that, over time, no longer required a recipe. Mujuddarah [Lebanese lentils and rice], Rancher’s Pasta, Lebanese egg-potato salad, veggie fried rice, Spaghetti Josephine to name a few.
By the time we moved to France, children had grown and there were only two of us. It was also when, thankfully, I met my friend Sally.
Sally is an artist and teacher who moved to Bolivia for two years in the late 1980s. She became involved in running a house to support children living on the streets. A young boy in the program captured her heart and she adopted him. In 1990, they returned to the U.S. where she resumed her teaching job in the Arizona public schools.
She is a born nurturer who also happens to love cooking. Every day. Sally always has a plan.
Her picnics in our Parisian neighborhood park were particularly memorable. Over colorful Bolivian blankets spread on the lush grass, she arranged platters of sliced poached chicken, fragrant with spices, raisins, and sautéed onions, tiny thyme and rosemary roasted potatoes, Mediterranean quinoa salad, cheeses and fruits, and chocolaty bites of brownies. Flutes of champagne or a perfect glass of wine served as accompaniment. Even flowers in a vase. Sally made it look effortless. On many a splendid summer evening, she and her husband charmed a revolving door of houseguests over the two years they lived here.
One day as I was floundering around for an idea, I asked Sally what was for dinner. She said, “Galette.” What? I knew galette in the form of a cake [Galette de Roi] served in the early days of the New Year. It has a plastic toy king baked inside that is a good luck charm for the finder. That is if you don’t swallow it.
“No, no, no”, Sally said, “This is different. Galette can be savory as well.” Traditionally, galette is a covered crust over cooked ingredients–savory [meat or veggies] or sweet [fruit]. She began to describe the process but I cut her off. “I’ll never remember, just show me.”
We agreed to meet the following week in my sunny kitchen for an afternoon of cooking camaraderie.
That same evening, in celebration of the retirement of our apartment building’s caretakers, I was to attend a potluck dinner party in the courtyard. All other residents are French. At the time I didn’t know them well and felt intimidated by what to bring.
Back in the kitchen, there happened to be a bottle of Burgundy in the counter wine rack. We opened it. Then got busy. It couldn’t have been easier. Especially with the “wine buffer”.
Sally brought cooked chicken breasts and potatoes, roasted red peppers, spinach, zucchini, olives, onion, and soft goat cheese. While I shredded the chicken, she sautéed chopped onion and sliced zucchini rounds in a pan with olive oil until tender. Frozen pastry circles thawed quickly at room temperature on a baking sheet.
It became simple assembly after that–one meat galette and the other, vegetarian.
For the meaty one, we layered chicken, potatoes, and vegetables [zucchini, onion, red pepper and olives] over the pastry, seasoning well with salt and pepper. [Add red pepper flakes if you like more heat. Yes I do!] For veggie style, we used a combination of cooked spinach, goat cheese, zucchini, red peppers, olives and onions.
Cover with the top pastry or fold over in half and seal the edges. [I have also made a one-crust version, which is even lighter.] Make holes in crust to let out steam. Bake 20 minutes at 210 Centigrade or 400 Fahrenheit. Voila–an instant main course worthy of a king! Serve warm or cooled to room temperature. Add green salad and glass of wine, as desired.
Later that evening at the party, I discreetly placed my contribution on the table with other food offerings. Then quickly moved away to meet and greet neighbors. As people began to eat, I overheard several women murmuring about something delicious. It was the galette! They wanted to know how to make it and what was inside.
Surprised to receive such notice in a foodie crowd, I laughingly shrugged, “Oh, it was so simple…”
Simple, that is, if you have a friend like Sally…