As we look to honor women’s courage and creativity in March – Women’s History Month – a plethora of impressive names come to mind: Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhardt, Mother Theresa, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Indira Ghandi, Clara Barton, Joan of Arc. We have no dirth of courage in our midst. But somehow, there are two that have always stood out to me, spoken to me with their words, their tenacity, and their style. Yes, their style. Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas didn’t just lord over the most important salon of the century and inspire a whole new artistic and literary language, they did it with style.
A dear friend once wrote to me, “I’ve always seen you as very Steinish. Your apartments were always welcoming places where people wanted to hang out and eat good, simple food. And there was always wine.” Indeed. And it was that same friend, a writing partner, who later would accompany me almost weekly to a dark corner of Fugaise, a Minneapolis restaurant since closed, to write over mussels in cream sauce and a bottle of champagne.
For as we continue our day-to-day struggles and day-to-day chores, we should never lose sight of life’s simple pleasures.
Here’s a recipe adapted from the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook: Mussels in Cream Sauce – a treasure. Enjoy – preferably with a bottle of champagne!
- 2 qts mussels
- 3 shallots
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh fennel or 2 tsp fennel seed
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tbsp saffron
- 2 tbsp flour
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- fresh parsley
- optional: 1/4 cup of white wine
Melt 3 tbsp butter in a large saucepan and add chopped shallots, fennel (chopped or seeds), crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Scrub and wash the mussels and add to the pot. Cover and cook over high heat for 4 or 5 minutes – until the shells open. Remove the mussels from the pan, and then from their shells, draining and reserving the juice in a separate bowl as you go. Strain the juice with a cloth sieve and put back in pot over low heat. When hot, add saffron and stir well. If you are adding wine, do so now. Add flour and stir with wooden spoon until the sauce thickens – about 5 minutes. Add the mussels. Reduce heat and slowly stir in cream. When it is steaming hot (but not boiling) remove from heat, pour into a deep serving dish, and sprinkle with parsley. You are ready to serve.
“If one likes mussels at all one likes them madly, and that is the reason there are so many recipes for their preparation amongst the treasure.” – Alice B. Toklas