Saturday, March 3, 2012

We'll see

Lately I've been feeling out of touch and disconnected; from my surroundings, the people around me, from my own self. Do you ever feel that way? When all you can think about are the problems, the minutiae of every day life, when you end up worrying too much or too little about things that are senseless or of grave importance that you end up cutting yourself off from all the things you hold dear? When your life seems like it's just passing you by?

On the beginning of February was the one year anniversary of my dad's sudden death. It was a difficult month, in all respects, still I didn't share any of it with you. I wanted to keep it light over here, I didn't want to let you in on my rather gloomy world as of late.

Perhaps winter is to blame. The days are still dark, even if March is here, just barely, the skies have that all too familiar shade of grey, the fog is surrounding every building, tree and obstructs my view of the world it seems, and the sun only peeks through the clouds for mere moments; not enough to lift my spirits.

Bad things happen, I know, not just death, but illness, depression, fights among people who love each other deeply, mood swings, lack of money, of space, of time, of will to create. The antipode of all that is life, breathing clean air, laughter, cuddling with ones love, sharing food. Yes, sharing food always comes into play when I'm thinking about what really matters in life.

Food, sharing it, enjoying it with the ones you love or offering it to those who need it more than you do. Celebration, bereavement, a dinner table set with plain dinnerware and extraordinary food, a picnic, a lunch with friends.

I don't care if all this makes sense or not. It's raw, it's me. It's my space, it's my voice, it's my food. Please, join me.

I have been doing a lot of cooking lately. Not sharing it here but with the people I love; my S. and my brother who was staying with us for a while. I was not sharing it with you but the time has come.

Perhaps I will be posting more these following weeks, perhaps not. We'll see. Perhaps with less words and more photos and actual food, perhaps without food at all and just me, talking, writing, we'll see. What I do know, is that I need to make a change here. I need change. Only that can move me forward.
We'll see.

The recipe...
The Mouclade is a classic French dish of steamed mussels in a curry cream sauce. It is a dish that needs to be shared and enjoyed among friends.
A large plate of mussels is put in the middle of the table, the creamy sauce is poured generously over the top and the parsley is scattered around. Hands start digging in, taking the mussels one by one, with the rich golden sauce dripping all over the tablecloth. The bread is crunchy and crumbs fall on the floor and the wine is abundant and no one stops until there's only a speck of sauce left in the plate, and the last person holding the last piece of bread dares not let it go to waste so they stand up, put their hand inside the large dish and bring that last, glorious bite to their mouth.

Mouclade - French Steamed Mussels in a Curry Cream Sauce
Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu

This is a creamy, rich, indulgent mussel dish. The curry adds an exotic accent to it and makes it ideal for cold winter nights, or crisp spring evenings that are yet to come.

The crème fraîche and egg yolks add creaminess and thicken the sauce, as does also the beurre manié. Beurre manié means 'kneaded butter' in French and it is a hand-kneaded paste of softened butter and flour (in equal parts) that is whisked into sauces, soups or stews and that works as a thickening agent. It is extremely easy to make, as you will see in the recipe below.

Yield: 4-6 servings


for the mussels
1 ½ kg whole mussels with their shells (I used Jumbo-sized mussels)
150 ml dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
2 dried bay leaves
20 black whole peppercorns
1 small shallot, finely chopped
A handful of fresh parsley stalks

for the beurre manié
20 g unsalted butter, softened
20 g all-purpose flour

for the sauce
15 g unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
10 g (2 Tbsp) curry powder
1 Tbsp Armagnac or Cognac or Brandy
400 ml mussel liquid
250 ml cream, full-fat
Freshly ground black pepper

2 large egg yolks
65 g (3 Tbsp) crème fraîche

A handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped for sprinkling over the dish

Special equipment: colander, fine sieve, muslin or cheese cloth, brush for cleaning the mussels


Cleaning the mussels
Read here on how to clean mussels.

Cooking the mussels
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, add the mussels, wine, bay leaves, peppercorns, the finely chopped shallot and the parsley stalks. Turn heat on to medium-high and close the lid. When steam starts to get released from the sides of the pan, turn heat down to medium, shake the pan gently and let mussels steam for about 5 minutes or until their shells have opened. Shake the pan every minute or so, in order to ensure the even cooking of the mussels. Don't shake the pan too hard because the shells might break. Be careful not to overcook the mussels because they will dry out and become rubbery. You need them to be plump and juicy.

Drain the mussels and reserve the liquid. Discard any mussels that did not open while steaming. Set mussels aside and cover them to keep them warm.
Pass the mussel liquid through a fine sieve lined with a muslin or cheese cloth to get rid of any sand or impurities, and into a bowl, and measure it. You will need about 400 ml. Set mussel liquid aside.

for the beurre manié
In a small bowl, add the softened butter and the flour. Mix and knead with your fingers until you have a smooth paste.
Simple as that!

Note: The beurre manié can keep in the fridge, in an airtight container, for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Use it to thicken up sauces, soups or stews as described below in this recipe.

for the sauce
In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the finely chopped shallot and the minced garlic and turn heat down to low. Sauté them until soft, stirring constantly so they don't catch, and add the curry powder. Stir it around, frying it, for 1 minute, and then add the Armagnac (or Cognac or Brandy). As soon as the alcohol smell disappears, pour the cooking juices from the mussels into the saucepan. Turn heat up to medium-high and bring to the boil. Add the cream, turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste and if necessary, reduce the sauce a little to improve the flavor.

Add the beurre manié to the sauce little by little, whisking it lightly into the sauce as you do. The beurre manié contains raw flour so you need to cook it in order to get rid of the raw flour smell and taste.
While the sauce simmers away gently, whisk the egg yolks along with the crème fraîche in a medium-sized bowl. Add a little of the sauce into the bowl to temper the mixture (bring it to temperature), whisking continually, and then pour the egg yolk-crème fraîche mixture into the saucepan. Do not allow the sauce to come to the boil. Turn heat off.

Note: The sauce is supposed to be a little soupy. It is not supposed to be a thick sauce.

Serve the dish
Place the mussels in a large, deep serving dish and pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle generously with the finely chopped parsley leaves and serve.
Alternatively, you can serve the mussels in individual soup bowls.

Accompany the dish with grilled/toasted, crunchy baguette slices and plenty of white wine.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I understand and definitely believe that winter makes life more difficult in general. Know that you're not alone . We're happy to hear from you and read your blog in any format you choose. In the meantime, peace, hugs and thanks for the beautiful recipe.

  2. I know exactly what you are talking about, when parents die life changes for ever and though it in a certain sense makes your love grow, it makes life grimmer. At least that is my experience, my father died 6 years ago and my mother 5 years ago and it took me a long time to readjust my world. Still going down now and then, I loved my parents both as parents and as friends, and I miss them every day and expect to do so for the rest of my life. But do you know, I am happy I miss them and think of them because that keeps them alive. If you need to talk or rant or whatever, I'm here, just contact me. BIG hug

  3. El — thank you so much for reading, and for your supportive and kind words.

    Ilva — your comment really means a lot to me. Thank you so much for sharing your own experience. It is very difficult to let go of the sorrow when a parent dies, but you are so right; the memories, the fact that we miss them, keeps them alive. Thank you!

  4. the winter was tough on everybody. I, too, felt completely disconnected and am still feeling that way. we need to let the sunshine in and I hope it will be soon. this soup looks fantastic. thanks for sharing. sharing saves :)

  5. Magda, It's important that we all keep it real- you have written such truth here- I remember this time last year, although I hardly "knew" you at all, I was so sad for you - losing a parent is a very difficult thing and changes your life. Of course the first anniversary left you feeling this way. I won't lie and say that the years change that. They don't. Somehow the hole is never filled. How could it be? But like you, I invite more and more people to my table and food, conversation and sharing seems to be one of the only things that feels good, natural and worth anything. Keep it up- it's one of the things you do best. WIth love.

  6. I know what you mean because I also sometimes feel disconnected to everything and everybody. Totally agree that one of the most great things in life is to share food, and I almost forgot it living away from my family and friends and re-discovered in a great way. I could say that I can imagine how you feel, how you miss your dad, but I know it would be only a shade of the sadness that you are feeling. So, I only can send you a hug.

  7. I can relate, although the feeling does not last, it is important to know it is temporary and keep the same activities, let the motion propel you; love that dish by the way, I will make it one of these days, it sounds so flavorful and so rich!

  8. You make sense to me. This post really resonates with me, truly. I'm so sorry for your loss. I, too, lost my dad quite suddenly, over 7 years ago. The Green Day song --Wake Me Up When September Ends -- reminds me of him, and my sorrow, every time I hear it. I do hope there are sunnier days ahead for you; we will be here no matter what. Hugs.

  9. I totally feel with you Magda.. I ve been feeling down too.. Well your food looks beautiful and very happy.. and everything does pass in life..

  10. I hope spring comes soon for you as well, Magda. My motivations are different,I don't have such a huge loss to come to terms with, but I can relate to your feelings a lot, it's how I've been feeling as well lately. I feel as if I'm trapped in quicksand, and being creative or even just constructive feels so difficult. A big hug. And yes, sharing mussels with friends is a great cure.

  11. Magda - whatever you write, and whenever you write it, be assured that I will be there as your reader. Hearing your "voice" is comforting, like sharing the mouclade around the table with friends. I can only imagine how you and your family have missed your father this past year. Even though decades have passed since my parents passed, I still feel the loss daily but also feel the love and closeness as if they were still here with me. Thanks fro a beautiful and thoughtful post. ~ David

  12. These look amazing. Sorry you are feeling down and hoping that the sun is shining upon your face today!

  13. I always like reading your posts. The recipes are always great and I often relate to what you are talking about. Now is a very strange period for me too... stressed out and I feel like i'm always doing everything wrong... hopefully the spring will bring a better time for everyone1

  14. The dark days of February can be daunting..the darkness, dampness, the cold and anticipation of Spring...February is a hard month. But now we are in March...March just sounds better..March sounds hopeful.
    Thanks for sharing your mussel recipe with us.

  15. It's always good to hear your voice, whether you're up or
    down. I can't imagine what it's like losing your Dad like
    that. Some emotions just aren't meant to be shared; the past couple of weeks I felt so stressed and sad but couldn't bring myself to post about it or tell my readers. In a way I think it's a pity that I always give the impression that my life is just a series of camera walks, coffee and cake but maybe I need that lightness to keep going.

    Simply take each day as it comes; keep some diahes only for yourself and those dear to you, write when you want to. We'll all be here looking forward to the next post, whenever that may be. As always your compostions and recipes are a joy - love the checked pattern against the vibrant yellow of the curry sauce.

  16. It is hard to find the right words. I understand what you are going through, I understand that need to change, to move on and get a grasp on your life. Being with those you love, sharing food with them, even just opening up and pouring out you heart (here on this blog) are all steps in the right direction. When the fog starts lifting and the sun begins to shine again and the air warms, your metaphorical fog will also lift a litte, I'm sure. So you are on the right way, just take your time and do things how you feel them to be right.

  17. i'm glad you shared this with us magda - even though i am blogging what seems like daily, i also feel the gloom, which is now ingrained in the greek spirit among all of us sadly; writing it all down helps me to get over it, and of course, food - and good food at that - always gives me a rich full feeling

    the sunshine does help too, but so does cybersphere, so please keep up your inspiring work

  18. Thank you all so much for taking the time to comment and for your supportive and sweet words. They are indeed very comforting.

  19. you make perfect sense, Magda, your voice in your writing comes through clear and honest.

    and the warmth and vibrant color (and, no doubt, taste) of the curry in that mussel dish should help lighten the gloom. the end of winter gets hard, especially when associated with deep loss.

  20. I really enjoy your blog. You're a great writer and a wonderful cook. Your photos are gorgeous, too. I hope this blog continues to be a creative outlet for you, and that you feel re-energized soon. When times are dark for you, know that you inspire others via this medium.

  21. What a wonderful way to serve mussels. I can't wait to try this recipe, and I love all of your photos. Beautiful!