Monday, August 11, 2014


 A pocketknife, as I have discovered and of which he always has one tucked away in a pocket or the car's glove compartment, is quite a useful thing to have on hand. An improvised picnic, slicing cheese or a roasted chicken, popping open a bottle of wine (always have a corkscrew attachment!) or peeling fruit. Opening oysters or cracking the shell of a crab, digging out the meat, slicing a baguette into equal portions and smearing with a bit of butter, a hunk of pâté. Cutting off chunks of salty, fatty saucisson sec. And who needs a fork when one has the blade of a pocketknife?

 String and rope, sticks and stones, a pocketknife is always a must on a father-son adventure, a boys' day out in the wild. Digging holes in the dirt for spikes or searching for worms, cleaning a fish on an expedition. Cutting branches for whips or improvised fishing poles or pirate swords, slicing one's way through the wilds of the Amazon forest, riding high on the imagination of a child. Whittling a tiny toy, a dog or a person, placed into the upturned hands of his son.

 My husband has a thing for knives. I know I should be worried. He pauses outside each coutellerie, each knife shop of which France is resplendent with, a country luxuriating in the abundance of kitchen, carving, hunting, fishing, camping knives, daggers and pocketknives on proud display in vitrines on every other street, he pauses and I see the longing in his eyes as he peruses the offerings. "Would you like one?" I ask, loving wife that I am, acknowledging that he rarely splurges on himself. I am also somewhat astonished at my own fascination with the knives on display, attracted to the smooth, elegant beauty, the cunning mechanics and design of what I see. "No…." he shakes his head and pulls himself away from the window like a kid resisting the urge to grab at an offering of candy.

 Our kitchen knife drawer, rather small considering his passion for the things, contains our meager collection of Wüsthof knives (the entire selection purchased in one shot with a bonus he earned from work), several others I have received as gifts, a motley assembly of our old, cheap, dull knives, of which I am loathe to part with, from our poor-as-church-mice days. And his collection of pocketknives in a variety of material, lovely and soft, red, black and metallic.

 We have roamed through many an old World War battlefield, trenches, woods, in and out of bunkers in the north of France. We have come across rusted old forks, broken bits of metal, the odd thing lost in the dirt, lost in history. Nothing much of interest to scavenge. But fascinating all the same as we stood for several minutes and pondered the lives of the men who once were on this very spot.

 We found an old armoire, if one can call it that, a pieced together, homemade, shabby old wardrobe made from the crude, raw wood of packing crates, in my in-laws' attic. We dragged it home, back to our very first, tiny little home in the Paris suburbs because we needed furniture and hadn't the money to purchase anything much at all. Upon opening it up to give it a clean in preparation for filling it with clothes, we saw the stamp of the US Army. These, as it turned out, as my father-in-law recounted, were made from crates that held ammunition for the US Army during World War II, crates left behind once emptied, grabbed up by the local inhabitants and turned into furniture.

 An old knife, shiny silver steel, on which the letters U.S. and the year 1917 are etched deep and clear, an old knife found at a flea market, picked up for a few euros. An old stainless steel knife, the blade tarnished and dull, a soldier's ID number etched on the flip side of the handle, a knife issue and packed in an American soldier's kit.

 Wars fought, lives come and gone, objects held in awe and reverence, a fork, an armoire, a knife.

 Superstition. To the French, it is bad luck to offer a knife to someone as a gift. No carving knife at a wedding, no pocketknife for a birthday, no hunting knife at Christmas. It is bad luck. One must always buy one's knives for oneself, therefore if you do want to offer someone a knife, a friend or family member, parent, child, sibling, that person must buy it from you, offering at least one penny, one cent if not more, for that knife. Sold not offered, bought not received.

 I have a set of six steak knives in my dining room buffet, a set of six steak knives in a white box no longer white, yellowed and stained, the edges ripped away, torn and frayed. The red and pink rose drawn onto the box is faded but it stirs up so many memories of steak dinners in our home during my childhood. "Regent Sheffield The Greatest Name in Cutlery Steak Knife Set" written in elegant font in the same red and pink followed by the reassuring, the alluring Stainless Blades Forever Sharp. Serrated stainless blades and tapered plastic faux stag antlers, which always stirred up images of Ye Olde Merry England and dark paneled pubs where weary travelers gathered for refreshment. A set of six steak knives purloined from my mother's kitchen drawer ad brought back to France and still used when meat is served at my table. Served with steak knives and memories.

 I brought the steak knives – so American – he brought the cheese knives – so French.

 A beautiful, creamy ricotta spread makes a summery sweet bruschetta when smoothed onto a slice of baguette, your favorite country loaf, pound cake or muffin and topped with fresh or cooked fruit or jam. The addition of goat cheese tempers the cheesy taste of the ricotta while adding just a bit of tang, the honey adding the perfect sweetness. So simple and quick to make – it whips up in no time – and is a really tasty way to serve the sweetest peaches, nectarines or plums of summer. A cool and surprising addition to a light summer meal, an elegant dessert or even a light meal all by itself.

Jamie's Ricotta, Goat Cheese and Honey Spread

5.3 oz (150 g) fresh ricotta cheese, drained if needed
1.8 oz (50 grams) fresh goat cheese, drained if needed
2 tsps runny honey (or to taste - JP found it a bit sweet, I did not)
½ tsp olive oil
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh mint

 Using a fork or a spoon, whip together all of the ingredients until well blended, light and creamy. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Prepare the spread and then add more or less of each ingredient to taste if desired.

 Spread on slices of baguette (my preference), your favorite country loaf or even pound cake, muffins or scone and top with slices of fresh or cooked fruit or jam.

 Try replacing the chopped mint with minced fresh chives, drizzling a bit more olive oil and a tiny grinding of pepper atop the spread before serving. The addition of crumbled gorgonzola will be wonderful topped with slices juicy, sweet autumn pears. Play with it as you like.

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  1. Jamie, what a wonderful read!
    And talking about superstitions, years ago I bought my husband as a present a Boker Solingen Damascus pocket knife. Now, that is bad luck! I better get him pay me something. How much you think I should charge him? I trip to Toscana? ;) :)

  2. I have a fascination with knives too! Must be a vet thing.....
    I bought the most sexy black ceramic knife a few weeks ago :-)
    Also Indians have the same custom......knives shouldn't be 'gifted' so we always ask for a coin in return. Also knives shouldn't be handed to anyone, but placed on a surface for them to pick up. One of those practicality turned superstition things I guess.
    Wonderful post Jamie and Ilva!

  3. What is it about men and knives?! Perhaps it's a thing going back to cavemen times.

    Jamie, my man would be out of his mind with joy to show off his collection of blades - including a rather ridiculous number of straight razors - all blades insanely sharp. (I wondered if I too should be worried when the straight razor collection started....)

    Ilva, I especially like the knives on the tea towel (how on earth did you find a special knife towel?)

    And the ricotta/goat cheese spread sounds wonderful. We have the perfect wooden not-butter knives to serve it with too....

  4. Your all knives are amazing. These pocket knives are looking good and easy to carry.