Gingery road


I sometimes get the impression that we live in a timeless, unchanging part of the world. Since the volcanoes have carved and engraved the landscape millions of years ago, it’s easy to automatically look at the farms, cattle, and villages in the same way. The sun rises and sets over the fields around Verne, the fields that have always and will always be there. The only thing that changes during the year is the point in nature’s cycle of growth and decay. Similarly, I have been thinking that the way we live here today is probably not unlike the way people lived here half a century ago, and it will continue looking like this far into the future. In short, I thought of country life as being somehow outside of history. But a long talk with the Rabeyrin’s made me realize I have been completely wrong about the Verne of yore.

Ginger chocolate mousse | Infinite belly

Yesterday, I dropped by their house to give them the ginger chocolate mousse Adélaïde had just made and they insisted that I stay and have a cassis (blackcurrant) apéritif with them. Unable to resist the offer (they make their own crème de cassis, which diluted with a little bit of water tastes amazing and is very refreshing), I succumbed and we began chatting about the indian summer, winter vegetables, how to raise, slaughter, pluck and prepare a duck, beekeeping… the usual subjects of casual conversation. As they recounted episodes of village life and raising a family, I asked Madame Rabeyrin where she is from originally (it is curious to note that, after almost a year of knowing our landlords, we still address each other as “Monsieur” and “Madame”). With a coy smile she said, “Oh not at all from here! I’m from a village close to Dunières”. Dunières is about a 20 minute drive but to her (and to a lot of people we meet) that kind of distance means it’s a totally different place. And Monsieur Rabeyrin? “I’m from Verne, born and raised” he said with a proud look on his face. His father owned a stone shaping factory where they would prepare the material that would go into making houses as well as tombstones and memorials. “So you must know so much about the area, all of the families in the region, the different generations, no?” I inquired. He was affirmative. “Everyone knows us here. Well, a lot of relatives live in Verne. My cousin lives two houses up the street from you by the iron cross facing the field, and my uncle was married to a woman who ran a café by the church, the Café Pradier. Now there are less people around, some have passed, others are retired so we see them less often”.

Ginger chocolate mousse | Infinite belly

The woods of Verne, Auvergne, France | Infinite bellyAdélaïde in Verne, Auvergne, France | Infinite bellyVerne, I found out, was not always the sleepy hamlet it is today. Young people used to be able to easily find work in the area. Agricultural production and cattle raising were in full swing, and textile factories hired many people. When the textile industry declined, they were replaced by plastic factories; “plastic saved us” M. Rabeyrin likes to say. In Verne alone, there used to be four cafés (!), a boulangerie (bakery), and an épicerie (grocery store)! One of the cafés had live music on Sundays, and people would gather there after church for a drink, or as they call it un verre d’amitié, “drink of friendship”. “That was where we first met,” Madame Rabeyrin casually mentioned, and I tried to imagine them as a young and handsome couple, dancing in a crowded room full of life and joy and laughter, the clanking of glass and clouds of cigarette smoke, and of course the bouncy accordion and crooning vocals of the bal musette.

Coffee cup | Infinite belly

Today that street is a busy highway. Many cars and trucks pass by, but one sees few people and no commerce whatsoever. The Café Pradier, with its faded out façade and closed door, is not open for business anymore, although at times I’ve seen an elderly lady looking out the window through the white lace curtains. The tables are still there, but the former customers have passed or are now older and less prone to leave home. With less and less opportunities for finding work, the new generations left to go to the big cities, Saint-Étienne or Lyon.

André walking by Café Pradier, Verne, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Ginger chocolate mousse | Infinite belly

I felt a strange mix of emotions after hearing all these stories; people had such a good quality of life here, living close to nature while rooted in the land their families had lived in for generations. The region hasn’t lost its beauty, but there are certainly less people, and those memories become faded like a postcard of a forgotten place that was once so vibrant.

Wild flowers | Infinite belly

Adélaïde picking wild flowers | Infinite belly

A walk in the woods, the road to the lake | Infinite belly

The Rabeyrin’s could read my thoughts, but they didn’t seem as worried. They still have their beautiful vegetables, chickens and ducks, sunsets, and fresh air. “That’s just how it is, the old generations go but new ones will come”, they seemed strangely confident as they reassured me. They cited some reasons: people can work from home now and many choose to live in the countryside. And who knows, maybe immigrants will also bring new life to this part of France. Although there will surely be waves of growth and decrease, it is precisely the timeless aspects of life here that will always keep bringing people back.

Book on spices | Infinite belly

Dirt road & wild flowers | Infinite belly

Whisk | Infinite belly

Chocolate mousse was my favorite dessert growing up in Brazil. For years, I knew it by its Portuguese pronunciation — moossy gee chocolâchee. Here we used a small amount of sugar and added a more adult ingredient, ginger, to make things fizzle just a bit.

Ginger chocolate mousse 4 | Infinite belly

Ginger-infused dark chocolate mousse | Serves 8-10

Continue reading “Gingery road”

The music is in the pie


Parmesan, basil & zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

Yesterday we made a garden pie. A bright yellow parmesan & basil shortcrust topped with caramelized shallots and a long green spiral of zucchini, punctuated with toasted pine nuts. The kind of pie that manages to make you feel healthy for days while being unbearably good. From the first whiff of those sizzling shallots, we got in the cooking zone. By that I mean the feeling I get when I’m progressively hungrier as I cook and just take in all of the odors and colors in anticipation of the meal I’m about to put in my belly.

Iridescent leaf | Infinite bellyParmesan, basil & zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

Naturally this leads to singing. Cooking goes so well with music because your hands are busy, but the part of your brain that takes care of music is at liberty to listen and hum along. Nothing to do with getting bogged down while multitasking on a computer. On the contrary, it probably helps with the creative act of home cooking, inspiring you and putting you in the right mood to make a delicious meal.

That morning, the sky was brightening up and our moods soared in anticipation of another indian summer day. Without even thinking, I doodled a bit on the piano and began singing one of the songs from a French movie we love, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. There are too many great things about this 60’s musical film: bright colors, feel-good songs, poetic lyrics, witty characters who constantly sing and dance, the setting in a small southern French town in the 60’s…

Parmesan, basil & zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

Ornament | Infinite belly

Parmesan, basil & zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

We actually got obsessed with that movie to a point I didn’t think was possible. I don’t know if it’s the pure brilliance of the dialogues and music, the transcendental beauty of Catherine Deneuve and Gene Kelly, the great mood in which we already were when I saw it for the first time at a local Cinéclub reunion, or what combination of factors resulted in this, but it has been over six months now and we are still going around the house, the car, the supermarket and the woods, singing and humming the themes from this movie, especially when we cook.

Vintage plates, cutlery & lichen | Infinite belly

Cutlery | Infinite belly

Chopped shallots | Infinite belly

One unforgettable scene is when Maxence, a sailor in the navy (who also happens to be a handsome painter, of course), sits at the counter of an art deco café in the middle of the city square, and sings about searching all over the world for his idéal féminin — his feminine “Ideal” — and not finding it but knowing that such a woman must exist. The intensity of his song takes over the whole café, including the regulars who stop what they are doing and join him in a choir. The café turns into a secular temple, music fills the room like in a cathedral echoing off the walls and transforming that moment into a spiritual one in an otherwise mundane, everyday place.

So yesterday while I was playing, Adélaïde rummaged through our fridge and pantry and laid out a bunch of ingredients on the table. A colorful, delicious vegetable pie was to be made. I like to think that the music inspired us and that the pie looks and tastes like Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. At least, that’s what we sang and had in mind as we chopped, mixed, kneaded, stirred, baked, ate and enjoyed.

Parmesan & basil zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

Feuille | Infinite belly

Parmesan & basil zucchini garden pie | Infinite belly

Parmesan & basil shortcrust zucchini garden pie | Serves 6

Continue reading “The music is in the pie”

There will be beets


Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

Today we drove one of our cats, Gaston, to the vet. In between the tortured meows that followed every curve on the windy road down to Yssingeaux, the nearest town, we were all of a sudden struck by the transformation of color that has taken hold of our natural surroundings. The slightly stale green from the end of summer gave way to yellow, orange, and red patches interspersed in the thick foliage surrounding us on our descent.

Autumn in Auvergne | Infinite belly

Cuiller en bois horizontal | Infinite belly

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

“That’s it,” I told Adélaïde when it hit me, “we’ve made it through a whole cycle”, with fall now in plain sight, we’ve seen and lived every season here in Auvergne.

We moved in on a true winter day, thick snowflakes falling on the windshield of our rented truck as we approached our final destination, Verne. The GPS must have had a sense of humor as it directed us on the last leg of our journey through the most challenging course under those conditions. It also turned out to be the more scenic option. Compared to the rather bare highway, here we were inching up tiny snow-covered villas of red brick, and gray stone, smokestacks and steep slopes. As soon as we arrived we emptied the truck with the help of friends and family — which turned out to be much faster than filling it in Paris earlier that day — and from then on we were living in a house, (for me, the first time in my life) a real house with a garden in the back and a view of the mountains up front.

Adelaide on a wild path | Infinite belly

Raw tomatoes & vintage cloth | Infinite belly

Frise | Infinite belly

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

No vestiges of the previous seasons are left now, except for the memories of long meals in the garden and bringing our badminton rackets and yoga mats back inside at the end of the day. The Rabeyrin’s are now busy stocking up on firewood, the vegetable patches have almost been denuded of their nutritious garment and the earth left neat and bare. We’ve gone back one hour and night falls earlier, when we retreat indoors to our sofa, to books and to movies, lots of tea, and open a Touraine red wine we’ve been saving up. Sometimes we confuse the sound of rain with the rustling of leaves outside. Above all, we talk animatedly about food and recipes we want to try, the markets we have yet to visit, and places to see in the area. We slow down, and time gallantly obliges.

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

The road to Ardèche - Infinite belly

In Paris, time was punctuated most distinctly by the fever of human events. Instead of moving towards the future, it felt like the future was coming towards us, announced in the form of changing shop window displays for new seasons, screens showing 3D movie trailers in the metro (think “Back to the Future II” when Marty McFly travels to 2015), the next big art show, apps and gadgets, fashion weeks, winter sales, summer sales, the progress of cranes, reconstruction of Les Halles in the city-center, the daily torrent of news… Amid this cacophony, nature was always there, but most of the time it slipped quietly in the background and decorated the quotidian.

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly
Living here feels like stepping outside of that time and that frame of mind. Most human things are static, and the bit of construction in town is a faraway affair that only concerns us when we have to pass thereabouts on occasional errands. It is more common to see cows — corpulent, grass-chewing, slow-moving, happy cows — than people. The farmhouses that were here over one hundred years ago have barely changed. The herculean effort to source, shape, and erect these from stone paid off long past the lifetimes of those who conceived of these projects. It feels like les anciens were not only building for themselves, but also for future generations. The Indian saying puts it well: we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

Ornement seul | Infinite belly

Nature, on the other hand, is constantly transforming itself and stimulating all of our senses. So much so that my daily obsession became cooking and taking long walks in the forest, things I had never previously imagined I would do with such passion.

Beetroots | Infinite belly

Ferns | Infinite belly

Louche vertical | Infinite belly

Beetroot soup & arugula | Infinite belly

Ruby beet soup, goat cheese foam, toasted hazelnuts
& wild arugula | Serves 6

Continue reading “There will be beets”

The forager’s harvest, Part II — porcini


A few days after our chanterelle outing, Adélaïde and I came back to that spot armed with a handy mushroom guide, a pocketbook filled with information on identifying mushrooms, from the gourmet to the lethal. To our delight we found Bordeaux ceps — also known as porcini, one of the most sought-out mushrooms at this time of the year.

Porcini mushrooms jars | Infinite belly

Porcini mushroom creamy linguini | Infinite belly

Walking around the forest, we traversed a variety of micro-climates, ranging from drier areas with tall trees, pine cones and brown leaves, to luscious mossy patches covering the ground like a soft vegetal carpet. We moved towards a clearing after spotting a few red dots in the distance, a cluster of fly agaric mushrooms. Porcini tend to sprout close to them, according to Simon, a friend who runs a restaurant nearby.

Adelaide among ferns | Infinite belly

Poisonous fly agaric mushroom | Infinite belly

Poisonous fly agaric mushroom | Infinite belly

Those really are the fairy tale poisonous mushrooms. But they offer great clues as to where the porcini may be hiding. Our strategy now consists of roaming the forest looking for these red colonies, which is not too difficult given their bright color, and then combing that area in search of the tricky porcini. As we approached the clearing, scanning the earth, inch by inch, gunshots thudded in the distance, followed by barking. It’s hunting season as well, and while we stay far from them, I always wear a red beanie and other bright clothes to avoid getting shot while innocently picking mushrooms — I’ll admit this is more of a dark fantasy of mine (that always makes Adélaïde laugh) rather than an actual risk.

Porcini mushroom preserved in olive oil jars | Infinite belly

The cèpes de Bordeaux (ceps or penny buns in English, porcini in Italian) are really some of the tastiest mushrooms out there, with a robust consistency that also makes them an excellent meat substitute. They are characterized by their oversized white stalk that needs to be carefully dug out of the earth in order to be kept whole. Although they can be quite large, they are difficult to find since their brown caps are often burrowed under fallen branches and sticks or deep under the moss. Flipping through our little guide’s pages, we stumbled upon their evil cousins: the bolet de Satan, also known as cèpe du diable or bolet diabolique. No translation needed.

Porcini mushroom foraging | Infinite belly

Once a porcini is spotted, I get a particular pleasure in picking it out; it’s like being on some kind of hunter-gatherer forest treasure hunt, or like being Mario after finding the right green tube that gives the mushroom and a little victory song plays in my head as I pluck it from the ground. Although I can’t say we are experts, our method has worked pretty well so far and we come home each time with little families of porcini in our basket.

Foraged porcini mushrooms | Infinite belly

Frozen yellow ferns | Infinite belly

As we headed back to the car, I froze when I saw a couple of figures in the distance gliding through the woods. I started looking for signs as to what their forest activity might be, only to be relieved when seeing straw baskets, batons, and noses pointed to the ground. It turned out to be a retired couple, Jacques and Louise, who live in Lyon but come here every year to pick mushrooms and enjoy the outdoors. Louise told us that her family actually comes from a nearby village, Lapte. It’s a sleepy town with winding roads that climb a hill, covered in stone houses, alleyways, and steep steps. A church sits at the center of the village, overlooking the pastures and volcanoes all around. It turns out Louise’s great-great-grandfather built the church’s bell tower! After comparing our baskets, we parted, and Jacques told us they were happy to have met des gens du coin. And how nice that was, to be called “locals”.

Porcini mushroom turnovers, hand pies | Infinite belly

Spider web in the forest | Infinite belly

Foraged porcini mushrooms | Infinite belly

Soon we had more porcini than we could consume, so we decided to preserve some of them in jars with olive oil. We are lucky to get tons of fresh olive oil from a Portuguese friend, Manuel. He moved to France decades ago but part of his family stayed in Portugal and he goes back to visit once in a while. He recently told me about the olive picking season in his hometown that just came to a close, where his family owns many olive trees. This ancient practice had been relatively neglected in recent decades after a rural exodus, and sadly many trees have been burnt by local vandalism. But a recent interest has brought people back to the land, at least seasonally, for olive picking and olive oil-making. Who knows, maybe we’ll go next year?

Porcini mushroom preserved in olive oil jars | Infinite belly

With the precious mushrooms cleaned and cut in small pieces and soaked in olive oil, all that was left to do was to pick a couple more ingredients to spice things up, and Adélaïde had some great ideas: raw garlic, roasted hazelnuts, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. They have been sitting here by the kitchen counter for a few days now and I must say this is testing my self-control. Meanwhile, with the rest of the fresh porcini we made a couple of simple, hearty dishes — pasta & turnovers — that feel and taste right for this time of the year, as the weather gets suddenly quite cold and we feel more like being inside taking photos of food and doing baking experiments.

Porcini mushroom creamy linguini with minestrone soup | Infinite belly

Porcini mushrooms turnovers, hand pies | Infinite belly

Cuiller en bois - Infinite belly

Porcini mushroom creamy linguini | Infinite belly

Porcini, garlic & parsley creamy linguini | Serves 2

Continue reading “The forager’s harvest, Part II — porcini”

The forager’s harvest, Part I — chanterelles


Fall harvest squash and girolles - Infinite bellyInfinite belly - poached egg girolles toast 2Infinite belly - pear muffins with girolles caramel 2

Ladies and gentlemen, here it is, the much awaited season I’ve been dreaming about, a moment I’ve been anticipating ever since we moved here… mushroom time! And a full mushroom menu to celebrate. Finally, I can go out into the woods and just get my hands full of chanterelles and ceps! The forest has completely transformed for autumn. Mushrooms of all shapes and sizes now punctuate the landscape with color: red amanites, white coulemelles, yellow girolles, bits of orange moss, brown cèpes, purple amethysts. You feel like Alice in Wonderland, completely overwhelmed by these new objects populating the woods.

Infinite belly - beautiful forest

Infinite belly - mushrooms in the forest

Infinite belly - beautiful forest 2

Beyond being lost, we were more precisely at a loss. Luckily, we were accompanied by our friend André Chachá (his actual name, which coincidentally means “Cat-cat” in French) a Brazilian cook who was working under Chef Régis Marcon in a 3-star Michelin restaurant not far from here in Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid (‘Saint-Beanie-the-Cold”) and who knows a thing or two about mushrooms, at least when it comes to cooking them.

Infinite belly - Chef André ChacháChef André Chachá

As novice mycologists, we opted for the strategy of picking as many types of mushrooms as possible and identifying them later. Showing up at the pharmacy with a basket of colorful forest finds, we were disappointed to discover that almost none of them were edible, and the few that wouldn’t kill you were not gastronomically interesting. Adding insult to injury, the pharmacist explained that even if we had found good ones we would not have been able to eat them since we mixed them all together in the same basket with the other types, and worse, since we in part used plastic bags to collect them… and plastic makes mushrooms ferment. After so much anticipation, we were devastated. Maybe the secret to mushroom success was inaccessible to us newbies.

Infinite belly - mushrooms in the forest 3

Infinite belly - mushrooms in the forest 2

Infinite belly - mushroom in the forest 4

It was Chachá who saved the day. Going back to Saint-Bonnet, we tried a new spot, hoping for better luck this time. Climbing a steep hill to reach the promised land we stood there breathless, but to our dismay this spot looked even worse than the last one — there were less mushrooms in both quantity and variety. To top it off, on our way back down, it started raining. We were scattered in three different corners of the woods when I suggested we should just call it off and go home. As we reluctantly headed down, I saw Chachá stooped over some bright yellow mushrooms. “I think they’re chanterelles! he exclaimed in cheerful Portuguese. Once we started finding them, we just had to follow the path that naturally connected their growth clumps. It got to a point where we ran out of containers and had to use our sweaters to grab more. We ended up getting over 1 kg of chanterelles, which for a small mushroom is quite a lot!

Girolles mushroom basket - Infinite belly

Although the Marcon restaurant (with the cheapest menu starting at 360 euros per person) is off-limits for us at this point, we were lucky enough to have one of their cooks prepare a meal with us at home! And what a treat that was, coming back inside on a chilly afternoon, spending hours making celeriac cream, squash, and toasts to accompany the wild mushrooms we had just foraged. In the end we had so much that we even used them for dessert! Chef Chachá showed us something we had scarcely fathomed before: caramel aux chanterelles.

Infinite belly - pear muffins with girolles caramel 4

Couverts trois vertical

Infinite belly - poached egg girolles toast 4

Chanterelle tartines with poached egg, celeriac cream,
borage flower & yarrow leaves | Serves 2

Continue reading “The forager’s harvest, Part I — chanterelles”

One thousand autumn leaves


Lavender-infused mousseline custard millefeuille - Infinite belly

I feel conflicted when thinking about jazz today, its simultaneous outdatedness and relevance, how little it resembles music that is being made now, yet how much it has influenced music in less obvious ways. Going to a dusty jazz club feels like taking a trip on a time machine, going back to a (recent) point in history when sounds still needed to be produced by instruments shaped in various ways, with hammers, strings, and pipes. People bobbing their heads to a solo and the occasional bursts of enthusiasm coming out from the audience at an unexpected turn of the melody. Jazz is stuck somewhere in between classical and popular music: it’s turned into “sit-down” music, for the brain more than for the body; but it’s retained something informal since it’s still played often in small clubs, and you can always discretely move to the beat in your seat. Not austere like Bach and not vulgarly provocative like Miley Cyrus. Music of freedom, yet too often constrained by those seeking to define a jazz “genre”. In between and therefore strange, hard to categorize, to know its place.



I grew up playing music with my brother, him on the guitar and myself on the upright piano. Home was a half-hour of stepping on dry leaves, coming back from school on an indian summer day. We would arrive famished and head straight to the pantry to grab the chips and hummus that were always kept in stock. Sometimes a couple of friends would come back with us, the sax and trumpet players in our band. Our song of choice to warm up, jam out, and conclude was Autumn Leaves. In fact, we would play Autumn Leaves ad nauseum:

These autumn leaves,
drift by my window,
these autumn leaves of red and gold…


This is a tune I can play with the most intimacy, with those symmetrical sets of chords descending in parallel horizontal lines, musically imitating the movement of the gently falling, swaying leaves. It got to a point where the chord shapes were molded into my finger muscles and I could go through the changes without even thinking. In the end, that’s the key to improvisation. You need such familiarity with the tune, every chord, note, and rhythm, that it becomes an extension of your mind and body. Your melody sings as it meanders inside and outside of the given tonality, sometimes sounding completely in line with the harmony, other times taking surprising detours that joke with your ear.


The millefeuille, which means “thousand-leaves” in French, has been a French pastry classic for centuries. The feuilleté’s unique texture requires the repetition of a particular way of folding, a movement that creates up to 729 pairs of layers! It takes practice, like everything that is worth doing well, but the result is extraordinary. And it’s a technique that is used in many other classic French pastries including the much coveted viennoiseries: croissants, pain au chocolats, chaussons…

Ade & andré


Ornement trois

Lavender-infused mousseline custard millefeuilles | Serves 6-8

Continue reading “One thousand autumn leaves”

Our green-thumbed neighbors


Butternut squash risotto, pecorino & crispy bacon | Infinite belly

infinite belly - bouchon

Coming to Auvergne for the first time was an otherworldly experience; the moment we passed the Bienvenue en Auvergne sign on the highway I sensed a change in the scenery: a higher altitude, snowy villages hugging the hillsides and riverbeds below as we crossed on suspension bridges, no more factories and advertisements that were so common around the periphery of Lyon. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the balcony of our hotel room when we first came for Adélaïde’s interview, the freshest air in the night sky making us shiver, gazing at the stars and the chaotic shapes of volcanoes around us. Coming was a crazy but plucky move, as life here was largely unknown to us, mainly imagined. Who would we meet? Would we be welcomed as newcomers in a community or would we be seen as strangers?

Vegetable patch & stone house in Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Verne, where we live, is really a blip in the universe. Even in the region it is barely known. When you take the road connecting Yssingeaux and Montfaucon (the two major towns close to our house), you pass by various lieu-dits (literally “said-places”, hamlets without street names) and villages like La Chapelette, Les Planchettes, Grazac, Lalèche, Treyches, Raucoules, etc… eventually you reach a sign marked “VERNE”, but if you don’t take a moment to slow down and look around, you may not even notice its existence. It is a typical little hamlet like so many others: a few stone houses, a monument honoring the veterans of the World Wars, signs for fresh goat cheese, scarecrows, chickens, and fields dotted with cows. Let’s just suppose that, feeling tired from a long drive, the afternoon sunlight inviting you to rest, you decide to stop and take a stroll. You would first notice the outsized church, too large to make sense today for such a small place, witness to a time of greater religious fervor. Exploring the small roads going into the fields you would see a variety of houses, some remarkable in their old stone, others not so much if they have been remodeled and “modernized” to fit contemporary tastes. A cat might be sitting in the middle of a field, quietly observing you. Or a puppy from a near-by farm may come by with her tongue out, eager to play with newcomers. To be sure, you will consistently see vast, flourishing vegetable patches. Neat little rows methodically lined up one after another, divided into sections of lettuce, chards, spinach, carrots, beetroots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and the list goes on…

Neighbor's vegetable patch in Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Neighbor's vegetable patch in Auvergne, France | Infinite bellyOur home in Verne, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

At first we were somewhat shy about approaching our Auvergnat neighbors; being the foreigner with the Parisian wife living next door, I was keenly aware of the exotic presence we must make in the hamlet of Verne. We met a few of them thanks to our cats, who refused to be confined to the space of our garden. Climbing the wall to hop on the other side, Gaston and Frida acted as our feline ambassadors in the neighborhood. When we would come searching for them, the conversation would typically go like, “So you’re the owners of the chubby striped kitten and the three-pawed three-colored cat?” “Yes… we hope they haven’t been bothering you!” “Oh not at all, plus they keep the mice away from my orchard!” This began our first contacts, but the key to this cultural exchange came from Adélaïde’s pâtisseries.

Our cat Gaston in the garden | Infinite belly

Verne neighbor | Infinite bellyThere was no way we could keep up with the sheer amount of pastry that was being brought home every week: royal and black forest cakes, lemon tarts, passion-fruit chocolates, raspberry charlottes, and tartes Bourdaloue to name a few… so in order to avoid wasting and throwing perfectly delicious food away or risking obesity-in-Verne, we started giving cakes to our neighbors. It turns out that giving your neighbors éclairs, macarons, and Paris-Brest is a great way to make friends. Trading sugar for vegetables, it’s like living an ethnologist’s gift economy dream. By spring we were coming over for coffee or crème de cassis, being shown around their vast orchards, and getting planting advice: “If you plant your lettuce on May 4th, the night of the new moon, they’ll grow really fast”,  our landlord, Monsieur Rabeyrin, raises both hands accompanied by the typical French onomatopoeic et HOP!, the rising pitch of his voice indicating the sudden sprouting of a new plant. And “make sure to use wood chips instead of plastic to cover your strawberries during winter, it’s more organic”. Another neighbor, Monsieur Robert, told us about the lettuce seeds he’s been cultivating his entire life — unlike most of those currently available on the market, which cannot regenerate year after year. They’re his seeds, and they’re over 70 years old, as he puts it. His father first started germinating them in 1944, protecting himself and his family from the war’s food shortages. And today, M. Robert’s children are growing them too. Lettuce is a family affair around here.

Our cat Frida & fall harvest chanterelles & squash | Infinite belly

Chopped butternut squash | Infinite belly

Parboiled butternut squash | Infinite belly

We started our own modest patch, but soon we were receiving baskets of fresh veggies from our neighbors every week in exchange for the “pastry fix”. In the late spring, we received potatoes, carrots, lettuce, green beans. Then summer came with juicy red tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, fragrant wild arugula, and swiss chard (which I had never tried before, but it’s quite similar to kale). Now that fall is here we have a new variety of vegetables to work with: pumpkins, squash & butternut of course, but also lots of cauliflower, beetroots, and celery. With all these available on our kitchen table, we always have great options when deciding what to make for lunch. We can’t really go wrong whether we choose to peel and slice a few ripe tomatoes and throw them in the pan to make sauce, or parboil some green beans to accompany a steak. This week we decided to make butternut squash & pecorino risotto, perfumed with fresh-cut rosemary from the garden and crispy bacon.

Butternut squash risotto, pecorino & crispy bacon | Infinite bellyVerne garden flowers | Infinite belly


Fall butternut squash & pecorino risotto with crispy bacon
risotto alla zucca | Serves 4

Continue reading “Our green-thumbed neighbors”

A fig for your thoughts



When I was a kid, I hated eating fruits. Juices were sometimes okay, but eating a whole apple? Gross. It felt too strange in my mouth, both crunchy and soft, firm yet juicy. Not to mention its overpowering tangy taste… it was too confusing for a kid used to a modern diet of spaghetti and meatballs, Doritos, and the Brazilian staple of steak with arroz e feijão. Every Rosh Hashanah I was tortured to eat apples with honey for a sweet New Year. And it was not only apples that scared me but all kinds of fruits. Some were surprisingly soft and mushy inside and had all kinds of seeds and deadly pits hidden in the center. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that by the time I would grow up this would have to change. It would be too ridiculous to refuse a tangerine at the ripe old age of twenty on the grounds that I felt “icky” about eating fruit. And probably like a lot of other children, I started getting used to fruits by consuming them when they were almost unrecognizable: transformed appearance, engineered consistency and/or taste, loaded with sugar (e.g. fruits roll-ups, gushers… you get the idea).

Cuiller en bois horizontal

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The other night, we went to one of our favorite restaurants in the area, La Coulemelle, a great bistrot-style place in Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid (which would literally translate to Saint-Beanie-the-Cold — probably one of the best village names I ever heard). They had just entirely changed the menu and when dessert time came, I couldn’t help but feeling a little disappointed at first. They only had desserts with fruits in them. No chocolate. No caramel. No nuts. Just lemon, fig, and peach. There it was; my childhood reluctancy to eat fruits was still lingering in my grown-up body.
Adélaïde managed to convince me to order the figues rôties. As the waiter brought my plate, it struck me to see that the figs were not distorted like in most desserts. I was wriggling in my chair. They were whole, beautiful and a little intimidating but as I started eating spoonfuls of them, I realized I love figs just as they are. Because you could really feel the taste of figs exploding at every bite. It was like I could suddenly swallow all the fruits in the universe and enjoy it. It was actually so good we went to see the chef and asked for the recipe. Luckily, Michel was kind enough to share it with us: dribble honey, butter, Maury wine (from Roussillon), and salt on the figs and put them in the oven for 5 minutes. Disarmingly simple. A couple of days later, we made a tartelette version of this dessert de la maturité.



Aromatic fruits like figs and pomegranates remind me of the Mediterranean sea and the lands of my great-grandparents, Izmir and Rhodes. In the book I’m reading at the moment, Belle du Seigneur, by Albert Cohen, the main character, Solal, is a League of Nations officer who also comes from that region, from the island of Cephalonia. And he uses precisely this imagery of oriental flora and Mediterranean paradise to ravish Ariane, the woman he wants to seduce:

What kinds of trees were there in Cephalonia, asked this daughter of wealth, this consumer of nature’s beauties. With a faraway look in his eye he reeled off the names of the trees he had so often recited to others, ran through the list of them: cypress-trees, orange-trees, lemon-trees, olive-trees, pomegranate-trees, citron-trees, myrtle-trees, mastic-trees. Reaching the limit of his knowledge, he went on inventing lemonella-trees, tuba-trees, circass-trees, prune-trees and even puple-trees. Wonderingly she inhaled the vanilla-sweet fragrance of his miraculous forest.



Pelle à gâteaux vertical

Roasted whole fig tartelettes | Serves 4

Continue reading “A fig for your thoughts”

Pretty in pink


Pan-seared pink trout | Infinite bellyThe Auvergne Lignon river | Infinite belly

Ten minutes away from our house, there is an old stone bridge that passes over a river. Once in a while, just after crossing it, we would spot a car with its nose in the forest at the beginning of a trail. An aura of mystery always surrounds these cars parked in unexpected locations. What are these people up to? Who knows, maybe this is a famed mushroom picking spot the locals stubbornly refuse to give away? Or perhaps they are innocent picnickers? Eventually we venture in through a tunnel of mossy stones and silver cobwebs on the left, and a quasi-precipice on the right, taking a zigzagging path down to the water.

The Auvergne Lignon river | Infinite bellyFern | Infinite belly

A lone figure perched on a rock surrounded by the gently foaming current holds out a fishing rod. Behind him the bridge arches over the water, revealing a stone house with smoke slowly billowing out of a chimney. It turns out we live in a fisherman’s paradise. The river that passes by our house is not just any river but the Lignon, a hot-spot for wild Fario trout. A friend who owns a restaurant here (more on that to come) told me he once met a Japanese fishing enthusiast who had come to our region in search of the famed fish, with its delicate flesh and mouthwatering taste. He even took years of French classes for the sole purpose of this trip!

Adelaide at the Lignon | Infinite belly

Verre à pied

I myself haven’t fished in years, the last time being while living in northeastern Brazil. I tried fly fishing in Bahia with a local friend who didn’t know exactly what he was doing, and neither did I, so we ended up catching no fish. But we had beer. Two fishermen in a small boat drifted by us. The sun was bright and the boats swayed, revealing heaps and heaps of shrimp under green nets. We exchanged beer cans for a bucket of shrimp, which was more than enough to make a sumptuous moqueca, a typical Bahian seafood stew, cooked with locally-produced palm oil. That was the saving grace of my one and only fishing experience. Maybe I’ll stop by that old-fashioned fishing shop displaying rods and reels in the town-center of Yssingeaux later this week…

Provençal sauce vierge | Infinite belly

Brocante vintage store | Infinite belly

Spider web & vintage wheel | Infinite belly

The hills are steep, descending a ravine going away from the bridge, looking over a green, gaping mouth crowned with stones — some shaped by the water and others by man. It is always cooler down by the river where the water meets air. We observe patterns of foam covering pools of still water — parallel half circles, vectors in all directions, amorphous blobs dotting the tableau — creating an effect akin to a Van Gogh night sky or beard. A hummingbird whizzes by close to the water, dipping its beak for a split second and disappearing in the distance. The morning cold is gone and the midday warmth makes me crave tomatoes. We make a Provençal sauce vierge, using ripe tomatoes from the end of the summer with lots of Portuguese olive oil, garlic, basil and parsley.

The Auvergne Lignon river | Infinite belly

As we prepared the trout (alas, market-bought), we found ourselves humming Pretty in Pink, by The National — probably a result of free association with the pale pink flesh of our trout fillets. And with Pretty in Pink in my head, so many other images follow. Music often marks a period of one’s life, and for me The National is the beginning of living with Adélaïde in Paris, a set table on a weekday morning for butter and honey tartines and breakfast tea, long Sunday afternoons listening to French public radio, cooking and reading…

Adelaide at the Lignon river | Infinite belly

Provençal tomato sauce vierge | Infinite belly

Couverts trois vertical

Pan-seared pink trout & Provençal sauve vierge | Serves 2

Continue reading “Pretty in pink”

Worn-out tin plates, by the bunch


Avocado snack, two waysIMG_1643 copy

Last Saturday, Adélaïde and I went to the local Salvation Army store by Le Puy-en-Velay. We got there ten minutes before opening and there was already a crowd building up outside. You really see all kinds of people gathered there – retirees from the region, the Français de souche, but also families of recent immigrants; we hear a range of languages from Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. It’s fascinating because that’s the kind of diversity one imagines only in big cities, yet here we are in a mainly rural region.

Everyone is busy digging for treasures to be found in this giant warehouse. Strolling through the aisles you see all kinds of rustic vintage kitchenware, furniture, electronics, you name it: postwar modernist kitchens, wooden bed frames, skinny Peugeot bicycles, a Karajan record next to a Julio Iglesias record next to a 80s French pop hits record… You can be sure we never leave empty-handed.

Vintage farm table - Infinite belly

Spicy miso vinaigrette & avocado - Infinite belly

This time we found a set of tin plates straight out of a 1950’s work site, when the workers would bring their own gamelles or lunchboxes. They are super light, resistant to heat, and come in all shapes and sizes. Perfect for that quick, no frills improvised meal. You can easily picture this at a construction site fifty years ago, full of brawny mustachioed workers, maybe Portuguese and Italian immigrants along with local Frenchmen, holding it with one hand and serving themselves with the other. They are full of little bumps, scratch marks and uneven surfaces that give them a distinct charm. Somehow they gain a new type of accidental beauty that was unconceivable when they were originally made, just to be simple and durable.

Vintage tin plates - Infinite belly

Vintage tin plates - Infinite belly

These are the plates we used to serve our avocado tartines with a couple of spicy (but very different) sauces. The miso really sizzles at the tip of your tongue and slowly takes over your palate with a tangy umami aftertaste, while the Tabasco punches in right away with full fiery flavor, and somehow you can’t help but want more. The spicy miso, or karamiso, comes from a Japanese goods store in Lyon called Satsuki. A few months ago, we were so obsessed with cooking Japanese food that we would sometimes drive all the way to Lyon and back (over 3 hours return) to urgently restock on supplies.


Spicy Tabasco dressing & avocado - Infinite belly


Spicy avocado tartines, two ways | Serves 2

Continue reading “Worn-out tin plates, by the bunch”

Black forest of dreams


Black forest cake | Infinite belly

Auvergne is wild. Night creatures scuttle from the edge of the woods across the road as we drive at 5am to a nearby forest for mushroom foraging. Hedgehogs, snakes and cats make occasional appearances. The cows are still asleep on the fields. The sky is slowly shifting, lifting its dark mantle of night to reveal pockets of orange and pink. I try hard to keep my eyes on the road.

Auvergne black forest | Infinite belly

The morning radio talk show interviews a fashionable French actor. I turn the sound off and lower the windows as it gets warmer and the day begins. Looking up, hawks circle over a field, ready to swoop down on unsuspecting mice. Walking in the woods, we spot a fox in the distance, silently slipping away. The air is damp and fresh. Still, no mushrooms. Even with all of this wild life, I’ve never felt in danger while wandering deep in the forest (as long as I have some good rubber boots on).

Adelaide in the forest | Infinite belly

Rubber boots in a stream | Infinite belly
Depending on the place in which we live or grow up, we have different relationships to the forest. In Brazil, I used to go on road trips to the beach with my family via the Serra do Mar, a mountain range covered in lush Atlantic forest (the most biodiverse in the world). I would stare out of my window as we passed by this majestic, seemingly impenetrable jungle, where the vegetation was so thick you could barely see past the edge of the road. During long traffic jams at night, I would imagine all kinds of beasts roaming about this mysterious place (lions, tigers, and bears!), and shudder at the thought of finding myself alone and struggling to survive. Nature could feel like a dangerous place, an “unfinished, pre-historic world” where one could perish if not prepared.

So many books and movies I love have illustrated this more eloquently. I think especially of Werner Herzog’s films and travels in the Amazon, narrated in Les Blank’s movie Burden of Dreams. In the jungle, “even the stars are a mess”, we get overwhelmed and disoriented from our cardinal points; we end up embarking on a wild quest to pull a boat over a mountain as in Fitzcarraldo, or go mad like Claus Kinsky with the monkeys in Aguirre. Wandering in the woods here, on the other hand, makes me think of the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault tales; nature feels like it’s both gentle and mysterious.

Magical Auvergne forest | Infinite belly

Heart shape in the forest | Infinite belly

Cloves in the forest | Infinite belly

The nice thing about mushroom foraging – in other words, staring at the ground for hours – is that even if you don’t find any, it forces you to look at the micro-forest – the tiny things that form the surface of the ground, like drops of dew on fallen branches, snails of all sizes, iridescent copper beetles, a winding staircase of tiny mushrooms on a tree trunk, the variety of colors and textures in each and every square inch.

Auvergne micro-forest | Infinite belly

Cloves & mushrooms | Infinite belly

Colorful beetle | Infinite belly

Time goes by in a different way, and before you know it, it’s 11am and we head back home to cook lunch. With a bucket of wild berries just picked, tomorrow’s breakfast is ready, along with some fresh faisselle cheese from the market. Our clothes smell like pine and my whole body feels like it’s been exercising even though I was never short of breath. The day has just started.

Adelaide picking berries | Infinite belly

Auvergne forest | Infinite belly

Basket in a forest | Infinite belly


Black forest cake chocolate decoration | Infinite belly

Timeless black forest cake | Serves 6-8

Continue reading “Black forest of dreams”

Flowers will be pies


French apple pie | Infinite belly

When Adélaïde started her pastry classes, the first thing she was taught was how to make a good pie crust. A beautiful golden color, crunchy at first, then crumbling in your mouth, enhancing and magnifying the fruits without sticking to the palate. The crust is the pie’s soul. If you want to make a good pie, make your own crust. It doesn’t take much time and is infinitely more rewarding than the ready-made ones. All you have to remember is that you need to progressively incorporate the butter into the flour and the other dry ingredients (almond powder, powdered sugar and salt) before adding the egg. In French, this is called sablage: the flour and the butter have to turn into sand and darken into a rich yellow shade.Perfect pie crust | Infinite belly

It’s been apple season here these past weeks and one of the fruit trees in our garden has been getting heavier and heavier under the weight of dozens of green and reddish sweet globes. We had to relieve it of its embarrassing offspring. So we decided to bake a traditional apple tart, French style. Any pastry shop here sells these. It started out as a misty morning but eventually, as we were ready to fill up our basket, the sky had cleared up, brightening the garden and its century-old stone walls.

Basket in our garden | Infinite belly

Apple tree in our garden | Infinite belly

Not so long ago in the spring, we used to watch our cats climb up this tree as we picked some of its branches to make beautiful bouquets. Adélaïde once told me she couldn’t help but feel a little sad for those flowers that would never become apples. Now as we eat this apple pie, it reminds me of the fact that it is a little bit like biting into a bunch of flowers.

Apple-tree flower bouquet | Infinite belly


French apple pie | Serves 6

Continue reading “Flowers will be pies”

Big volcanoes, tiny pulses


Le Puy green lentils with Auvergne sausage & bacon | Infinite belly

My first google search of Auvergne generated hundreds of green images: sprawling, grassy fields climbing oddly shaped hills I later found out were extinct volcanoes; Le Puy-en-Velay, a village with a Roman cathedral and a statue of the Virgin towering on top of a sugarloaf mountain, or “suc” as they call it here, reminding me of a long lost medieval ancestor of Rio de Janeiro, sleeping in the foggy mountains of central France. With its important concentration of volcanoes, Auvergne is one of the places that gave birth to the continent of Europe. Millions of years of eruptions and convulsions formed this land. That’s why I see Auvergne as a place of beginnings, origins, where an epic story of a continent – and later a civilization – began.

Le Puy-en-Velay (puy is an old Provençal word, today referring to a volcanic hill) happens to be one of the starting points in the Camino de Santiago. Every summer, pilgrims flock to this town to begin epic foot journeys towards Spain. Many punctuate their journey with a hearty lentil meal. Lentils are an integral part of the Velay’s terroir. The oldest recorded lentil cultivation in the region dates to 1643, when they were known as lanthiles, but their history probably goes back to much earlier in the Roman era. Today, the “Le Puy green lentils” are an A.O.P. (Appellation d’Origine Protégée / Protected Designation of Origin), meaning they are considered cultural property of the region, and must go through a strict certification process in order to be labeled “Le Puy green lentils”. Just as Champagne has to come from the Champagne region, Bordeaux wine from the Bordeaux region, Le Puy green lentils only come from Le Puy.
Old stone houses in Le Puy-en-Velay, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

André & Adélaïde in Le Puy-en-Velay, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly
Credits: Jean-Philippe Doho

Old door in Le Puy-en-Velay, Auvergne, France | Infinite belly

Lentils are an edible pulse, a legume rich in fiber, protein and iron. Once known as “the poor man’s caviar”, they are today the pride of Auvergne and lentilles vertes au petit salé, (lentils with sausage) is this region’s signature dish. We find it a great example of slow cooking and slow eating. Tasty and healthy, it perpetuates a certain kind of tradition, in which a dish is shared by many and made in large quantities so that it lasts several days and feeds several mouths. Like the gratin dauphinois (potato gratin), this course only gets better as you reheat it.

Le Puy green lentils | Infinite bellyAs we prepared this dish, Adélaïde actually told me that back in her childhood, she and her grandmother used to lay a few lentils on a wet cotton pad on a small plate to watch them grow over the next few days. Slowly, stems would sprout out of each lentil and grow into a tiny, tender green forest. They used it to decorate the nativity scene at home for Christmas time.
Ingredients for Le Puy green lentils recipe | Infinite belly


Slow-cooked Le Puy green lentils, Auvergne sausage
& streaky bacon | Serves 4

Continue reading “Big volcanoes, tiny pulses”



The beginning of the beginning was set in Bahia, Brazil, land of happiness and sunshine. Until I decided to move back to France, “land of turtlenecks and pastries”. I had studied there for a few months, had been dreaming of coming back, and didn’t question my grandmother when she encouraged me to go for it. And so I began my “career” of bachelor home cooking, in a small chambre de bonne (maid’s chamber) in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, close to Saint-Germain-des-Prés. “Small” – it was a tiny, barely livable space with a twin bed, a desk, a 1970’s electric stove, my guitar, and a sink. What redeemed the rent was the neighborhood, with its variety of cafés, restaurants, and shops on rue du Cherche-Midi, and a nice view of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the horizon.

Ornement trois

As a young intern with a limited budget, I discovered the local farmers’ markets as a way to get amazing fresh produce, which led to eating healthy (getting a break from the good ol’ 4 euro sandwich grec’s) and cheap. Not to be a hater, but very different from what I grew up with in L.A., going to get a Pastrami sandwich in what used to be a farmer’s market but is now a mall  – although those are good, to be fair. During my time in Paris, I spent quite a few Sunday mornings in different markets around town. Some, being located in pricy areas like the boulevard Raspail, offer more varieties of foie gras and expensive mushrooms, but others, like the Bastille market, or the Saint-Ouen one, are also a great spot to flanner (wander) and exchange recipes with other market-goers. An old lady was once delighted to tell me how to make veal paupiettes with tomato rice.

Green peppers on local market | Infinite bellyEggplants on local market | Infinite belly

With more markets than I had shirts, I could not resist the temptation of getting fresh pasta, girolles, and veggies to grill in my pitiful but charming Ratatouillesque hole-in-the-wall. I don’t have any food pictures from that era, and even if I did, I’m not sure I would post them. Let’s just say it was a period of apprenticeship. I had to look up YouTube videos on how to cut an onion, how to cook rice, etc… But after a few botched attempts (cooking for myself made for less embarrassment at failure), I began making things that actually tasted good. And the desire to write about this and share recipes and post pictures comes from the fact that making your own food is so much better in so many ways – dietary, ethically, lifestyle, politically – and is not that hard to do.


Later on, living with Adélaïde, who’d always cooked around her parents and her indefatigable grandmother, made me enjoy preparing and sharing meals even more. As we started out cooking together in our first apartment’s 16 squared foot kitchenette, we could barely stand without risking to stab each other. If I wanted to open the fridge door, she had to go to the living-room. Making dinner for a couple of friends required advanced engineering skills. So when we moved into this house and got a kitchen that’s almost the size of our old place, our desire to cook and experiment new recipes exploded.

Grilled pork chops, garlic purée & sautéed cumin carrots | Infinite belly

Wild flowers | Infinite belly

Grilled pork chops, garlic potato purée
& sautéed cumin carrots | Serves 2

Continue reading “Beginnings”