Wine & Spirits

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: A delectabe Provençal stew

Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment  — and a tested recipe.

Wedding bell blues

Fiona busies herself making Boeuf en daube*, even though it’s only Anne and Georges coming for dinner and they’d be happy with something far less complicated. She’s trying to divert herself. Yesterday, an old friend emailed her to say that her ex-boyfriend, John, is remarrying.

We broke up sixteen years ago, she reminds herself; I’ve been with Luc for fourteen. Why would I care?

And yet she does. She finds herself revisiting her year with John, the days spent in bed, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner between the sheets and off of each other. The little notes and gifts, the small attentions that she loved. She’s never known it since, although Luc is kind. It’s just not the same as the first time. That first love.
There’s a tap on the back door. Anne peers through the glass with puffy eyes.

—   Anne! says Fiona, opening the door. What’s the matter? Come in, come in.

Anne gives her a big hug and Fee hugs back. They linger for a minute, then Fiona pulls back and peers at Anne, wondering what’s up. Maybe a close patient has died, or someone is sick.

—   Give me your coat, I’ll make tea.

—   Oh, Fee. I never thought this would happen to me. It’s always other people.

Fiona places the kettle on the stove and they sit at the table, she grasps Anne’s hand.

—   What’s happened?

—   Georges. He’s having an affair.

Fiona’s heart flips: Bastard! I knew we shouldn’t have trusted him to call it off.

—   Oh Anne! I’m so sorry. How did you find out?

—   He told me. I’ve suspected something for months. He was working too many hours, but the balance sheets weren’t showing it. And a lot of times when he was supposedly working, he’d arrive home and shower right away.That was suspicious because he always showers in the morning. Plus, I just knew something was wrong. He’s been so stressed, and a lot of times he couldn’t even look me in the eye. It all added up, so I asked him point blank and he fessed up. He seemed relieved to tell me.

—   Oh, Anne. I’m so so sorry. Do you know who she is?

—   No. It’s some tart he met when he was settling her aunt’s will. I feel like such an old fool.

—   You’re not old and you’re certainly no fool, Fiona says. You figured it out. No solid evidence, like a VISA bill or an email, you just figured it out because you’re observant and you know him.

—   I suppose, says Anne reluctantly. And I suppose I am hyper aware. So many of my patients have these problems.

—   And Georges is clever, we both know that. Let me get the tea.

Kichen-ChroniclesI’m an idiot, thinks Fiona. I never should have agreed not to tell. She’s my best friend. Should I tell her I knew? But what good will that do now? It will make me feel better, but she’ll be hurt. No. No. I won’t.

She sets the pot and cups on the table.

—   Clever, but vain, says Anne. He’s an idiot for getting involved with a twenty-four year old. I mean what the hell is he thinking? She’s almost twenty years younger than him.

—   When did he tell you?

—   Just this morning. He was getting ready to dash off to the office at ten. He never used to work on Saturdays. He always believed in taking the day off for himself: golf, a hike with Luc. Hey, do you think Luc knew?

Fiona pours the tea, glad to be able to avoid eye contact.

—   Luc would have given Georges hell and he would have wanted to tell you. Why would Georges tell him? Too risky.

—   You’re probably right. Oh Fee.

She begins to cry. Fiona hands her a Kleenex.

—   I feel so old. So unattractive. He says he’ll break it off, but I don’t trust him. I mean I’ve always known he was a rascal, but I trusted him to at least be honest. Now though…. I don’t know.

—   How long has he been seeing Giselle?

—   How did you know her name?

She’s going to catch me out, but I can’t tell her now.

—   You just told me, she lies.

—   Oh, did I? I don’t know exactly, he was pretty cagey — maybe six months.

—   Well, if he says he’s going to leave her, then clearly he still loves you and wants to stay together. What about counselling?

—   It’s too soon to think of that. I need to nurse my wound for a while and then decide. After twelve years, Fiona. I can’t believe it. What would you do?

—   If Luc…. I guess it would depend on his connection to the woman, she says truthfully. If he was in love with her, well, that would be really hard. But if it was just lust…. Well, I think I’d insist on counselling and it would take a long time for the trust to come back, but I’d try.

—   Trust. Yeah, that’s the big thing for me too. And the fact that he’s been lying for six months, that makes it even harder.

—   I’d find that really hard too. So what will you do in the short-term?

—   I’m going to cancel dinner tonight, if that’s okay.

—   Of course.

—   Georges and I need to talk.

—   So you’re not kicking him out?

—   Straight into her arms? No way! I’m going to keep really close track of him to make sure he’s left her.

—   He’s breaking it off today?

—   As we speak. Allegedly.

—   Oh Anne, what a complete mess. Take it slowly, eh. No sudden decisions.

—   Yeah, I’ll try. I fell so overwhelmed, emotionally. It’s so hard.

—   Do you want to go for a walk? Clear your mind?

—   If you have time.

—   Always.

To the Lighthouse *Boeuf en Daube

Note: Start two days beforehand.

3 pounds chuck steak
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons crushed Juniper berries|
black pepper
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon dry mustard (Keens)
shake of cumin and coriander
dollop of olive oil
enough red wine to cover (1 bottle in all, so no sipping)
½ pound Canadian bacon
½ pound button mushrooms
2 large onions, finely diced
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
3 sticks celery, sliced
2 large tomatoes, blanched (10 seconds in boiling water), peeled and sliced
plain noodles
handful of pitted black olives

1. Trim the fat off the steak and cut into 2-inch x 1-inch pieces. Place in a dish and cover with the thyme, rosemary, parsley, bay leaves, Juniper berries, pepper, garlic, mustard, cumin and coriander, olive oil and wine.
2. Cover, place in fridge for 24 hours.
3. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon, roll the pieces in flour and brown a few pieces at a time in olive oil. Set aside.
4. Slice bacon into pieces ½-inch wide and 1-inch long; fry until crisp. Sprinkle them on the bottom of the casserole dish.
5. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a towel and cook them in the left over bacon fat then set aside.
6. Place onion, carrots and celery on top of the bacon
7. Add the mushrooms, then the beef.
8. Pour remaining marinade into the casserole with a little chicken stock and the rest of the bottle of red wine.
9. Place tomatoes on top of everything and cover the casserole with good lid.
10. Place in oven. Cook at 300 °F until bubbly (about an hour), then turn oven down to 250 °F or so for 3 or 4 hours.

The next day (if feasible, if not, can be served the same day)
11. Begin reheating very gently (250 °F oven) 2 hours before serving.
12. Just before serving, cook plain noodles.
13. Drain and toss the noodles with garlic and olive oil.
14. Remove meat and vegetables and pile them in the centre of a platter.
15. Spoon some of the liquid from the casserole over the meat and vegetables and toss a handful of black pitted olives on top.
16. Place the remaining sauce in a gravy boat.
17. Serve with green salad and fresh French-cut green beans with toasted almonds and butter.

Adapted from John Baker’s blog.