Vin de Noix, the Drunken Poetry of Walnuts

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From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

….It was 1995. France beckoned, and a home I had long forgotten was found again. It was the beginning of how I thought of bread as a character. And the beginning of writing Tales of the Mistress…

“When I said I’d like to drive past the Eiffel Tower I didn’t mean through the belly of Paris.” My husband, Rich, glared at me. He clearly objected to the route I had chosen for us as he careened our summer-sky blue Peugeot down a long narrow street full of fromage store fronts, boulangeries, and chocolateries that had barely seen the light of day, yet alone the headlights of a car, for four hundred years. Nor had they cared to. 

“But everything begins with the appetite in France.” It was my first time as an auto passenger in Paris. During November’s International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference I was a rider of Le Metro. And a Rue walker. The pile of maps under my feet shifted when we rounded a tight turn and I rolled the window down to hear June bustin’ out all over the Place de la Concorde. In the back seat were our two sons, Erick and Jaryd, aged ten and seven. They were not happy about the long ride ahead. But they would be happy about the two bottles of Orangina rolling around at my feet. I handed them back to our sons. 

Also at my feet were our precious Auto Europe rental papers, and a book. I picked up the Food Lover’s Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells which was stuffed with maps I had torn out of an Atlas to guide us. 

The lover’s guide to food and Paris had hypnotized me and put me in possible eternal denial of anything more pressing needing my attention. On page two-forty-six I read that Lionel Poilane had a brother named Max who also baked bread and worked with the same ingredients as he, flour and yeast and water and love, (okay they didn’t say love but I knew that’s what he was thinking) and they had five huge wood-fired ovens running for twenty-four hours a day but that he was stuck on a bread that was less acidic than his famous brother and he took a bag of it with him whenever he went out to eat and in fact ate bread with bread and bread with everything even sorbet and prided himself on the fact that he baked breads like pain au levain and petits pain aux noix and that he was lean and intense. And poetic.

The word poetic rang through me like a church bell from Notre Dame as we drove past trucks and stocky French men, singing to their crates of lettuce and cauliflower. And parsley. They smelled like salad. Or maybe was it oysters and anchovies? I couldn’t ask my husband to turn the car around to confirm. From their voices the men seemed as though they could care less about our being lost, and perhaps Paris had been planned this way. To get you lost in a dream of love, and song and food. Soon, I too forgot about being lost. I found myself waving and dreaming of poems to lettuce.

We sailed by the unloading truck as if in slow motion and I imagined spending the afternoon deciding who and what would dress the lettuce. Just as we turned the corner the heads of a feathery French laitue, lettuce, looked like, well, an exotically plumed bird. This was France. This was love. Or maybe was the sun blinding me? 

Was there more Orangina? No, but we’d stop soon, I said. 

Just as Max and Lionel Poilane were obsessed with bread, so I would measure the path of June against my memory of the first vin de noix, walnut wine that I had tasted in November on a post conference tour to Gascony after the Paris meeting with IACP. 

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