I heard an interview on a podcast, probably Just the Right Book, with the author, Amy Bloom. She said she relied heavily on Eleanor Roosevelt’s correspondence in crafting her fictional account of Eleanor’s relationship with Lorena Hickok. Perhaps that is why the dialogue rings true, Eleanor’s remarks more than Lorena’s. Eleanor was a much more accessible character than Lorena in this book. She comes across as vaguely saintly without ever a hint of “poor me,” although if what I’ve read here and in other books is true, Sara Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor’s mother-in-law, was a force of nature, like a tornado or a hurricane or blizzard, or some other natural destructive event. The collateral damage she effected was Eleanor’s relationships with her children. The children were always jockeying for their father’s love and approval, while oblivious to their mother’s unconditional love. It was Sara who had created the environment in which Franklin was the sun, moon and stars, and Eleanor was, just there. While the book is about Eleanor and Lorena, the main character really was Franklin. A selfish, egotistical man with a wandering eye, everyone, whether they loved or loathed him, was taken in by his charm, personality and drive. It was Franklin who made things happen, who could rally the troops, reassure a frightened citizenry that all would be well in the end. People were drawn into his vortex whether they intended to or not. Franklin was yang to Eleanor’s yin, opposites that more often than not, functioned as a cohesive whole: Franklin’s energy to Eleanor’s reflectiveness. The fact that I’ve said very little so far about Lorena is idicative of the book. In the first half where we learn of Lorena’s childhood struggles and eventual departure from her home, Lorena is a fully realized person, but as the book moves on toward the end, Lorena becomes a more shadowy figure, a hanger-on, who I really didn’t much care about.
THE BEAUTY: Early in their relationship, Eleanor and Lorena take a trip that they refer to as their honeymoon. They drive, without secret service, (I know, shocking, right?) to Vermont, Quebec and northern Maine, immersing themselves in each other’s company, as only two people in the throes of the beginning of a love affair can. They revel in simple pleasures – a cup of tea on a veranda, walks on the beach, star-gazing. On a magical night, they see an aura borealis. “Neon-green streaks and bolts of flamingo pink blow up the sky on a winter night in Maine and we think- oh, we will never forget these northern lights, but we do. What we remember is only the curling picture in the left-hand drawer (Presque Isle, Maine, 1934) or a gorgeous half-page photo in an old travel magazine, but what we saw when we held hands, lifting our chins to the sky as if we could leap into the jagged, jewelled brilliance above us, was seen for ten seconds only, and never again.” But they saw it. Not everyone does.
THE FOOD: While in Presque Isle, the couple share a lunch of tuna sandwiches on the beach. Knowing what I do of Eleanor’s culinary tastes, their sandwich was probably a great deal scaled down from the one I share here. I am a fan of Thomas Keller, of the French Laundry (Napa Valley) and Per Se (New York). Fortunately, my husband and I were able to eat at the French Laundry in 2003 on a trip to Napa, back when we could afford a destination dinner like that. So when Keller opened Per Se at Columbus Circle in New York, we were, yeah, sign us up. That is, until we saw the menu. No way were we going to pay that much for one dinner. After some research, I found that Kelleher had also opened a sandwich shop in the same complex, called Bouchon Bakery. The tuna sandwich there was reported to be fabulous. So that became our new destination restaurant. However, every time we happened to be in New York on subsequent theater trips, Bouchon Bakery was closed! I don’t remember when we finally had that sandwich (I think it was 2011, because that’s when I printed this recipe from the web), but it was worth the wait. I haven’t always been successful with the confit garlic aioli, so when it fails, I throw it away, take out the Hellman’s and add a little garlic to it, and voilà, almost homemade garlic confit aioli!
Thomas Keller: Tuna Nicoise Tartine
Adapted from the Bouchon Bakery recipe
4 thick slices Pain de campagne (if unavailable, use sourdough)
4 butter lettuce leaves
2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced
4 radishes, thinly sliced
8 Nicoise olives, pitted (couldn’t find them, used Kalamata)
Confit garlic aioli
3 garlic gloves, peeled
1 C extra virgin olive oil, divided
¾ C canola oil
1 T lemon juice
2 tsp each flat-leaf parsley, chervil, finely chopped
1 tsp chives, finely chopped
1 tsp each cornichon, shallot, capers, finely chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
5 oz tuna
For confit garlic aioli, combine garlic and ½ C olive oil in a small bowl and microwave for 10 seconds at a time, until garlic is soft, maybe 30 seconds total. Reserve the garlic and combine the garlic oil with canola oil and the remaining ½ C of olive oil, set aside. Process egg, lemon juice and reserved garlic in a small food processor until smooth (1-2 minutes). With motor running, gradually add combined oils and process until thick and emulsified. Season to taste, adjust consistency with a little water, if necessary, and set aside.
For tuna salad, combine 4 T garlic aioli, herbs, cornichon, shallot, capers, and lemon juice in a bowl. Add tuna and mix until just combined, season to taste.
To serve, spread two bread slices with a little garlic aioli, top each with two lettuce leaves, layer with tuna salad, egg, and radish slices. Garnish with olive, chives and paprika, drizzle with oil, top with remaining bread slices and serve.
A success! Garlic aioli! The finished sandwich- delicious.