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Restaurants are desperate to find a way to reopen this summer and maintain social distancing guidelines.    Cafes and bars are unlikely to make a profit with only 25% of their normal seating capacity.  How will they overcome the ghastly cost-benefit ratio created by these restrictions?   As usual, the dining-savvy French have a solution.

Televised footage on France 2 recently showed proposed curbside dining in Paris.  That’s right, a small table and  two chairs were set up on the street side of the curb.  In the spirit of full disclosure, it 'was in a no-parking space.  In this city of charming narrow streets visitors soon learn to share the sidewalk with the outdoor cafe seating.  If it’s allowed, car passengers may soon be able to eye diners with their plate of steak frites at arm's length.

No one seems to care in France; they know how to adapt.  When smoking indoors was banned in
2006,  Paris restaurants quickly expanded and weatherproofed their outdoor terraces to accommodate smokers.  On the other hand, the ability to sit in an outdoor cafe and nurse an espresso or glass of wine for an hour takes years of practice to master. 

It’s unlikely that American cities will embrace France’s cultural norms, but economic hardship is bound to force changes to the outdoor dining scene this summer.  Stay-at-homers need not worry.  The pleasant ritual of a cocktail with a tasty homemade spread on crackers requires little more than a little forethought and the desire to enjoy life at the table.

This post was inspired by recipes sent by Elizabeth Dill and Chris Rowbottom who have traveled with me to Paris and Provence. The Beet Tzatziki is a great stand-alone starter or side-dish. Ruth Reichel’s Liver Pate recipe is an easy riff on an classic starter that pairs well with any cocktail.  

My addition to the cocktail hour is mellow Ramp Butter.  Ramps are wild miniature leeks which the Menonimee Indians called 'shikaakwa' and French explorer LaSalle translated to 'Checagou' when describing the area we now call Chicago.  In the past, ramps appeared in early spring exclusively on menus of high-end restaurants.  This year 4 ounce bundles of ramps have been available at Whole Foods in the Chicagoland area.  



1 pound chicken livers, cleaned

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter

1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped

3 tablespoons Cognac or Calvados

2 tablespoons cream

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt; 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground

Remove the veins from the livers.  Hold filament between the two lobes and scrape out the thin veins on both sides.  Pat dry and set aside.

Saute the onion in 2 tablespoons butter until soft, about 3 minutes.  Add apple and cook another 3 minutes.  Put into a food processor.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter, lightly season the chicken livers and add to the pan, sauteing over high heat for 4 minutes (2 minutes on each side).  They should be brown on the outside and still pink within.  Remove from the heat, take away from the stove and add the Cognac.  Return to the heat and carefully put a lighted match into the pan, swirling until all the flames die down and all the alcohol has burned off.  Add livers to the food processor.

Pour in the cream and puree until smooth.  Add the remaining butter, bit by bit until smooth.  Season to taste, then pour into little bowls or crocks and chill for at least 3 hours.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Recipe from Ruth Reichl My Kitchen Year  



Ingredients for 2 1/2 cups:

1 cup cooked, shredded beets (any color)

Vegetable oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic (one clove)

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups whole-milk plain or sheep’s milk yogurt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Salt and pepper to taste 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Trim the root end of the beets, coat them lightly with vegetable oil and wrap tightly in foil.  Roast them in a skillet with 1/2 cup water until they can be pierced easily, about 1 hour.  When cool enough to handle, remove foil and rub off the skin with a paper towel.  Grate the beets on the largest hole of a box grater. 

Combine the garlic, lemon juice and salt in a mixing bowl.  Allow this mixture to sit for 10 minutes to mellow the garlic.  Stir in yogurt olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.  Fold in the beets, fresh dill and season to taste.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

Recipe from Spice by Ana Sortun



Ingredients for 1 1/2 cups

1 bunch ramps (4 oz)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper, to taste

Trim off root end of the ramps, rinse them thoroughly under cold running water.  Cut the entire ramp into 1” pieces.  Saute pieces in 1 tablespoon butter for 5 minutes, or until they are completely wilted.  Puree ramps with remaining butter, cut in 1/2” pieces, and lemon juice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate and allow to come to room temperature before spreading on crackers or sliced baguette.

Recipe adapted from Shelly Westerhausen, Vegetarian Ventures