Clio loves Jaques Tati. From the opening credits of Mon Oncle to the frighteningly affectionate german shepard of Trafic, she watches with rapt attention, ears perked, golden-grey eyes bright. I’ve never had a dog who watched television, and I said she must be a genius! David pointed out that the inclination to watch television is not exactly indicative of intelligence – a point I must concede. However! She’s watching foreign movies! She’s watching artsy French films. I rest my case. The truth is, of course, that Tati is not high brow or difficult in any way. Tati is pure pleasure from start to finish – visually beautiful, with lovely colors and graceful movements, and thoughtfully, perfectly quiet, with just the right sounds at the right times. We saw an interview with Jaques Tati from a television program that must have been called Showstoppers! The interviewer seemed nervous, and very sweetly kept on and on asking Tati about his favorite show stoppers, in his films, or Chaplin’s films, or Keaton’s films. Tati’s films, of course, aren’t about the fine art of show-stopperism. The action comes gently, in wave after wave, swirling and swelling and falling. In this interview, Tati secured himself the coveted position of patron saint-filmmaker of The Ordinary by saying that the purpose of his work is to bring a smile to ordinary life, to find the beauty and humor in things that we do everyday, and in everything that goes on around us. He’s laughing at us, but kindly and generously, with warmth and fellowship, because he’s as foolish as any of us. These foibles connect us, and the act of noticing them makes every moment, and every movement, important. In another interview, not with Tati, but with the stars of Trafic, the actors were asked how working with Tati had changed their lives. They replied that they look at everything differently now, the movements of people on the street, in their homes, in their businesses, and they, too see patterns and humor. This is a quality I aspire to. I want to notice things, everyday things and the movements of the people all around me, and recognize the beauty and comedy of it all. This feels like a grand ambition to me, an important aspiration. Tati proves that a comic film, so light and warm and absurd, can have great weight and depth, with strong, far-reaching roots that connect us all.
Why am I talking about a French film when it’s not a French-cake-a-week recipe?!?! I’ll tell you why! Part of this recipe was meant to be in a French cake, and was, in fact, from my French cookbook. These could be called “failed marzipan cookies.” I tried to make massepain, to make little shapes for my upcoming Buche de Noel (act surprised!). Instead I made a sort of almond toffee, delicious, but too hard to form into little shapes. So I cut it into little cubes, mixed it in with some dried tart cherries and some dark chocolate chips, and made one of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten!! They’re irresistible. The tartness of the cherries sets off the sweetness of the marzipan, and the chocolate is perfect with both. You could probably use regular almond paste for this, but it wasn’t hard to make failed marzipan. I simply combined sliced almonds with regular sugar (not icing, as I should probably have used) a few teaspoons of warm water and a few teaspoons of vanilla extract in a food processor, and I processed it for ages. Well, maybe 15 minutes. I scraped down the sides, now and again. The processor became quite warm inside, and the oil seemed to separate from the almonds. The resulting mix, when I pressed it altogether was quite hard and slightly grainy. I let it cool its heels in a bowl overnight, and it dried out a bit more. And that was that!!
Here’s a scene from Trafic with a very human gesture that I think we’ll all recognize!!
Here’s the Maytals with Happy Christmas. I posted it last year, too, at this time, but I just love it so much!!
100 grams sliced almonds
100 grams white sugar
2 t vanilla
3 t warm water
Combine everything in a food processor and process for a long time! 15 minutes, maybe, till everything can be combined into a fairly smooth lump. You’ll need to scrap down the sides a few times to keep everything together. At the end of the process, there should be a bit of oil separated. Throw everything in a bowl, cover it, and leave it for a few hours (or a few days) until the marzipan feels fairly hard to the touch.
1 stick softened unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 t vanilla
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 t salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup dried tart cherries, chopped
marzipan (see above) chopped into 1/4 inch dice
Preheat the oven to 375.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Beat in the flour and salt. You should have a nice batter, not too thick, not too thin. Add the other ingredients and mix well. Now you should have a fairly lumpy batter.
Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls onto lightly buttered baking sheets, and bake for about ten minutes, until the bottoms start to brown, and the tops cease to be shiny.
Let cool on a drying rack. And then try to stop eating them!!