Monday, October 27, 2014


Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

 I never knew that eggs could, would be sold by quantity of six rather than a dozen until I moved to France. Who would even have ever thought about it? A dozen eggs rolls off the tongue with ease and recognition, an automatic reflex when speaking of eggs, a dozen eggs in a pastel green, blue, pink or pearlescent white Styrofoam container that would then, once empty, be carried to grade school or a Girl Scouts to be transformed into Christmas decorations, nose masks, Easter egg holders or the petals of flowers for Mother's Day.

 And then I moved to France and found egg cartons with spaces for six. And no more Styrofoam now in carton or pressed paper. In unattractive gray or watery brown or sometimes a dull green. A visit to the cheesemonger at the market where farm fresh eggs were sold à la pièce, sold one by one, revealed a towering display of egg cartons, open and stacked, one nestled comfortably into the other. "Six eggs please" (one always seemed to order eggs by six or multiples of six) and as the cheesemonger lifted off an egg carton from the top of the pile he or she would ask for specifics, size, élevées en pleine air ou au sol, free range or not, enriched or organic. And six eggs would be selected from a basket or a large tray and plopped one by one into the six indentations in the carton. Lid snapped shut and handed over the counter.

 Their shells were no longer immaculate, chemistry-set white but brown with a neon yellow yolk hidden inside.

It was fashionable and recommended to do as our grandmothers did before us, save those six-egg cartons, recycle them, if you will, stack them on top of the refrigerator and carry them back empty to the market for the cheeseman to refill with eggs.

 Six egg omelet for three.

 There were six of us around the dinner table, father at one end, mother at the other, teams of two on each long side of the rectangle. My older brother and I would sit side-by-side facing the other two, a stern-faced sister, often grumpy, rarely happy to be one of six. And baby brother who, for lack of another choice, was sided with our sister. Six means even numbers, always two by two.

 Dinner at six sharp each and every evening. Six sharp meant the evening news, six sharp meant the end of the working day and the beginning of evening, time to wind down. Six expected at the table every night at six. And quietly. Seen but not heard.

 And let the games begin. Dad demanded absolute silence. Mom wanted a happy, quiet dinner but really never minded what we did. So the trick was, could my older brother and I make my sister explode into a noisy outburst without breaking our own silence, thus making her the cause of dad's sharp "shut up! I am trying to listen to the news!" Grimaces, ogled-eyed stares, sticking out the tongue displaying a mouthful of chewed food. Even (dare I?) touching her leg with my foot under the table.

 Deep-six. Dinner for six.

Six Foot Under.

 From six to five to now we are four. A father and a brother buried. Neighbors carry in trays of food, cold cuts and fruit salads, hot steaming pans of kugel. To soothe and relieve the shrinking family after the funeral. Six to five now four.

Five six, pick up sticks

 We treated ourselves to a trip to Basque Country, husband and I. It was merely a six-hour drive from Nantes to San Sebastien with a lunch stop in Bègles halfway there. A lunch planned, a restaurant reserved. Six hours to Spain; the world feels awfully, wonderfully small when one lives in Europe.

 San Seb (if I may) boasted wonderful restaurants, the best being the family-run joints, the tables nestled in a back room behind the bar, along with the kitchen hidden from the street so only locals know that meals are served. Homemade fish soup, a plateful of salty roasted Pimientos de Padrón, local flan for dessert. Tapas bars offered us late afternoon meals of finger foods to discover and glasses of white wine (we would sidle up to the bar trying for all the world to look like we belonged). When not eating, and my husband is strictly a three-meal-a-day man, no snacks or nibbling needed, we wandered the streets, popped into shops, saw the monuments and museums. But several times we passed the same little bakery strolling to or from our hotel, barebones really, simply an undecorated glass case behind which an older woman, plainly dressed, served clients, evidently the local residents who needed nothing chichi that screamed Basque loud and clear, like the tourists enjoyed. We would slow down and ogle the offerings laid out in the front window, rather large, homey, unadorned pastries and individual cakes, yet the best things we had ever seen. Until finally husband pulled me in, saying "it looks so good and it is obviously authentic pastries from the region. Let's get a snack!" Be still my heart. He loves me.

 Now, under ordinary circumstances, husband would have selected a single pastry and asked me to choose one as well. We would then go home and he would eat his and I mine. But as I was hesitating, not able to decide which to try, he stuttered out in his broken Spanish that he would like six, one of each of their specialties. The kind woman placed six different pastries in a box, closed the lid and tucked in the flaps, tied it up with string and handed the box to my husband. Back in the hotel room, he sliced each of the six pastries in two and we had a feast. Six pastries for two.

Six pack

 Why do sets of dishes, packs of cutlery come in six? Table service for six. And if you are four? Do you rotate? Or if you are more? Eight? And when you hold a dinner party of ten or twelve? Thanksgiving or Christmas when the table is groaning under platters of marshmallow-topped yams and turkeys the size of small ponies, pies enough for the Founding Fathers and the Boston Tea Party? Husband has actually dashed out to the biggest housewares store in the neighborhood just minutes before the guests arrived to a luncheon when we realized we did not have enough dishes to go round. 

 Twice six for a dozen roses.

 Cans of soda, cans of beer, single-serve puddings and little boxes of cereal. Packs of six. A six pack. Did you ever wonder why hot dogs come in packs of 8 yet buns in packs of 10? Hamburger buns come in six.

 Big crayons for little hands in primary colors. Six geese a-laying. Six days to create the world. 666 the sign of the Devil. Do six bananas make a bunch?

 But now I am six,
 I'm as clever as clever.
 So I think I'll be six
 now and forever.
 - A.A. Milne

There are actually a few positive aspects about this dark time of the year even though they aren't many and one of them is the wonderful choice of vegetables, usually green, that are in season from now onwards. When I had the choice to create a recipe this week with the theme of Six, it wasn't a difficult choice once I gave it some serious thought; it had to be a vegetable pie. This pie is as genuinely vegetable it can be; well, I cheated and used ready-made puff pastry but the filling is made with vegetables, a little parmesan and pine nuts, nothing else because I usually like my pies clean, without unnecessary fillers like cream etc. I hope you can excuse me for being so approximative but this kind of pie is made this way, you take what vegetables you have at hand and that marry well and just hope for the best. 

ILVA'S PIE WITH SIX VEGETABLES (If anyone can come up with a better name, please leave a comment!)

1 onion
broccoli florets, maybe two handfuls
1/4 head of Romanesco broccoli
2-3 small potatoes
1/4 head of a Savoy cabbage
the leaves (and stems if you want) of three red beetroots
2-3 tbsp pine nuts
2-3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil

   Slice the onion and start cooking in a skillet with some olive oil. Cut the broccoli and the Romanesco into smaller pieces and add to the skillet. Peel and dice the potatoes and add these as well. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, add a little water and stir often.

   When the vegetables are half soft you add the shredded Savoy cabbage and the beetroot leaves. Season with salt and pepper and keep on cooking and stirring for another five minutes. When ready, add the grated Parmesan and the pine nuts and mix well.

   Line a pie dish with dough, be it handmade or bought ready-made, and fill it with the vegetables. Bake in a pre-heated oven (200°C/390°F) for 20 minutes or until golden.

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  1. Awesome and refreshing post! Who knew the number six was that interesting?

    Ilva's pie looks heavenly! A healthy and succulent bake.



  2. Your photography always serves as an inspiration in its raw power, appreciation for light and natural composition, and natural unfussiness. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jamie, are you sure you aren't describing our family of 6 at the dinner table? When serving, did your dad get out his protractor to exactly measure how many degrees of pie each person got?

    When I was living alone, I used to buy half a dozen eggs from the supermarket. There was a serrated knife on a string for people to saw the cartons in half. (I confess I haven't noticed whether this is still possible; we now get eggs from the farmers' market)

    Ilva, I often make something along this lines (but without the potatoes and without the pastry) to put onto couscous or pasta. I've always called it "slop". I must say that your name sounds much more appetizing. I also really like the idea of making it into pie! To keep the six idea, how about Hexavegibliis? And if you don't need to hold onto the sixness of it, I guess that you can't call it an emerald and ruby crown, can you? Unless you make it into a ring.

    Favourite photo (though difficult to choose a favourite): the plates.
    Favourite story (though equally difficult to choose): the Spanish pastries - did you use your protractor to divide them exactly in half? ;-)

  4. Your stories made me laugh, Jamie. 6 pastries for 2? Tisk, risk ;-) Ilva's photos are so striking as ever, so natural and inspiring.

    Yes, 6 o'clock news was dinner in Scotland, parents already home and a long evening ahead of us. Here, I'm lucky if we can get to the table at 8 these days! Different lifestyles... And who knew about the eggs? We also had the 6 eggs in the UK. Your version sounds wonderfully posh. Love the sound of this pie - Elizabeth's Hexavegibiliis is fun. Six Legumes, er, well...

  5. Oh I savored every word here, and particularly loved the bit about your husband buying six pastries. Yes to the six veggie pie too - a wonderful story and beautiful photos.