Sex Death & Oysters

by Nancy Ellison
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I sometimes buy books for their title alone. Like a perfect haiku, a perfect title conveys knowledge beyond its words. My all time favorite title is “Space, Time and Architecture”. SPACE! TIME! ARCHITECTURE! One can dream without end on these words alone. I bought the book in college and felt by simply possessing the book and its title I possessed all that was inside. Silly huh!

Well, Actually I still feel that way. Books may be going out of fashion, but no Kindle presentation can offer the sensuous, tactile pleasures of touching a book, of leafing through the pages, noting chapter headings, lingering at illustrations – it all has the blissful satisfaction of rummaging through the print bins of a Left Bank art stall!

My current favorites – and the ones I am fondling at this moment - are “SEX, DEATH & OYSTERS” and “FRENCH FEASTS .”

Any book written by Robb Walsh, author of THE TEX-MEX COOKBOOK is OK in my book! The full title is “Sex, Death and Oysters: A Half-Shell Lover's World Tour”; complete famous recipes and a list of notable Oyster Bars.  Oh yeah! SEX! DEATH! OYSTERS! (Well, two out of three ain’t bad.)

My friend, Mercedes - who must have noticed my gluttonous drool when we dined on oysters together at Marea - gave this delectable paperback to me. LET THE DROOL BEGIN!

First to the table of contents and such chapter headings as “The Texas Shell Game,” “Irish Eye-sters,” “Dreaming of a Haute Christmas,” “English Oyster Cult,” and “Cajun Oyster Pirates.” I had forgotten how popular oysters are in Texas and Louisiana. Between the hurricane of 2008 and the recent oil spill, let us hope the Gulf waters are still a compatible home for these delicate bivalve mollusks!

“Ten Tips for Learning How to Shuck” can turn anyone into a knife wielding, though less Freddy Krueger blood-shedding pro – especially if you have the new metallic “chain mail” oyster-shucking glove and that little sharp pointed French oyster knife.

ImageAs for recipes – quite frankly, I think the best recipe is Shuck and Eat – and as quickly as possible! But for those who want to Shuck and Cook...nah! I haven’t the heart to enable you!

I found my other new favorite, “French Feasts” in (of all places) Vivi’s stationary shop in Palm Beach! For $40, you can have a 480pp book with 39 photos on the cover alone (48 if you count the one image that has 9 postcards in it), the French lyrics for the song from Moulin Rouge, recipes for such popular dishes as Pâté de Tête (head cheese) and Gras-Double (boiled tripe), directions for Foire Une Pelote de Chaussettes, Facon Andouillettes Tires a la Ficelle Pour Fedor (make a sausage sock toy for Fido), and wondrous illustrations and color photographs that make you feel you are in the middle of a Punch and Judy show starring Julia Childs. Even my darling husband, Bill, got off leafing through this book, and while he passed up Pâté de Tête, he left more than enough sticky notes for me to discover.

Par example:

Crème Brûlée au Foie Gras

10 oz fresh foie gras
2 cups heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1 pinch nutmeg
Salt pepper and light brown sugar to taste

1. Devein the foie gras and process until smooth

2. Whisk the cream with the egg yolks, add nutmeg and season. Combine the mixture with the foie gras mousse and pass through a fine sieve known as a chinois.

3. Pour the foie gras cream into six ramekins and place in a water bath at 235 degrees F oven for 30 minutes. Check for doneness with the tip of a knife; it should come out clean.

4. Sprinkle with a bit of brown sugar; then caramelize quickly under a hot broiler.

5. And lastly (and this is my addition) never, NEVER tell your Doctor I gave you this recipe!

FRENCH FEASTS is a feast in itself. My compliments to the art director who must have been art directing and wine tasting at the same time. Way too much fun for one book!

A votre santé!


Nancy Ellison, award winning photojournalist and celebrity portraitist, has authored fourteen books of photographs, including "Romeo and Juliet: The Love Story in Dance" and "Starlet". Her newest book, "Wagner's Eternal Ring" will be published this September by Rizzoli.   

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