Food Musings

Happy Bastille Day!

In honor of Bastille Day here’s an excerpt from the article “Viva la France” published in Chester County Town and Country Living. Grab a glass of champagne and enjoy!

Break out the flags and fireworks. Chill that bottle of champagne. Don’t forget to dig out your old, souvenir beret. It’s time to celebrate freedom and equality the French way!

This year marks the 222nd anniversary of the storming of the infamous prison, the Bastille, and freeing of its seven prisoners. On July 14, 1789 the Bastille stood for everything that the people of Paris and France despised – a government of despotic monarchs such as King Louis XVI. Just as the signing of the Declaration of Independence did in America in 1776, the takeover of the Bastille kicked off the start of a revolution in France. It likewise went on to symbolize the birth of the Republic and a new way of governing.

On my first trip to France I mistakenly thought that I would visit this famous, 14th century fortification. No such luck. The Bastille was demolished a few months after the assault. At the Place de la Bastille there now exists a traffic circle. The prison is, as my Lonely Planet guidebook indicated, the “most famous monument in Paris that doesn’t exist.”

Bricks and mortar may have disappeared but the significance of the structure perseveres. The 14th of July, or le quatorze juillet as it is called in France, is the country’s largest national holiday with festivities occurring throughout the land.

In Paris the celebration kicks off on the evening of July 13. On that night revelers dance in Bastille Square and at various balls throughout the city. On the morning of July 14 the fetes adopt a more patriotic but no less joyful tone. In Paris the President leads a military parade from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Elysées to the Place de la Concorde. Jets fly in formation overhead while the throngs look on from the parade route along Paris’s most prestigious avenue. The events continue throughout the day with special luncheons and picnics. At night fireworks fill the sky across the country, capping off 24 hours of festivities.

Americans aren’t exempt from Bastille Day mania. In New York mimes, cancan dancers, picnic tables, food vendors and wine tasting stands line three blocks of 60th Street at the event know as Bastille Day on 60th Street. For me, though, the party doesn’t start until I’ve had my first bite of French food. This means noshing on such quintessential French offerings as buttery, flaky croissants, fruit-filled crepes, Brie and Camembert cheese-stuffed baguettes, chocolate-topped éclairs and powdered sugar-dusted cream puffs. Trés magnifique!

A hundred miles away in Philadelphia Francophiles come out in droves for Fairmount French Fling Weekend. There restaurants pull out all the stops and showcase such specialties as ratatouille, escargot, croque monsieur and coq au vin. Bottles of champagne, Kronenbourg 1664 beer, and créme de cassis, a black currant liqueur from Burgundy, flow freely through the weekend.

The highpoint of Philadelphia’s bash is the reenactment of the storming of the Bastille. Portrayed by members of the Old Fort Mifflin Historical Society, costumed revolutionaries rush the Eastern State Penitentiary. There Marie Antoinette shouts “Let them eat Tastykake!” while hurling 2,000 Butterscotch Krimpets from the prison tower.

And speaking of butterscotch . . .

BUTTERSCOTCH OATMEAL COOKIES
Makes 2 dozen

1/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/8 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two cookie sheets.

In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Slowly add the two sugars, beating until the mixture is creamy and well-combined. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again.

Mix the flour, salt and baking soda together and then add it to the butter-sugar mixture, beating until well-combined. Add the rolled oats and butterscotch chips and, using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir until blended. Spoon out 1 teaspoon of the batter onto a cookie sheet. Leaving one inch between the cookies, continue to drop spoonfuls of batter onto the sheets until all the batter is gone. Bake until the cookies are slightly brown around the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes.