Monday, September 6, 2010

Coming Full Circle

Madame was one of those people for whom the beauty and elegance of life was essential. There were no coffee mugs in Madame’s home. She considered them to be ugly and refused to succumb to their convenience. “Sweetie,” Madame would say in her still heavily French accented English, “They just have no elegance!” Madame worked to create the life of beauty and elegance she valued, and did her best with everything and expected the same of those who surrounded her.

On her recent visit home I told Bella that I had finally written down the measurements and ingredients for Madame’s vinaigrette, but was struggling with the post. Bella suggested that I talk about how a visit to Madame required the best. Bella said, “You know, my best dress, my best shoes, and the socks with the lace ruffles. I had to wear a hat and gloves and carry my best purse.” And, most importantly, Bella remembers needing to be on her best behavior. (Some visits were quite short!) Then Bella said, “And I couldn’t chew gum. Remember the time we were standing on the steps and you looked down and I was chewing gum? You had already rung the bell and you looked at me and said, “Get rid of that gum! And, whatever you do don’t swallow it! It’ll be in your stomach for seven years!” So, I spit the gum into my purse just as Madame opened the door!”

For many years I have considered Madame’s vinaigrette to be the essence of culinary artistic simplicity. Every time it is served our guests rave about its subtle flavor and elegance. What finally spurred me to record the recipe was my nephew Wort. On his recent visit we had served this dressing with salad one night for dinner. Wort looked at me and said, “Auntie, this is the best salad dressing I’ve ever had.” From Wort, high praise in deed! For that brief and shining moment the beauty and elegance to which Madame aspired and tried to instill in those she knew blazed brightly. I felt like we had come full circle with Madame for whom we always did our best.

Notes for this recipe: I have adapted the recipe slightly. Madame always used vegetable oil, white wine tarragon vinegar, and jarred mayonnaise. She would never have added mustard of any kind! I use only homemade mayonnaise, and for the best results suggest that you do, too—click for my mayonnaise recipe. Substitutions for the Dijon mustard are not encouraged--use Dijon or omit this ingredient.  The amount can also be reduced.

Madame’s Vinaigrette
1/3 c. white wine vinegar
1 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly ground
Sprig fresh tarragon

Select a 2 c. glass jar with a tight lid. Into it measure the vinegar and olive oil. Add the mayonnaise and mustard. Put the lid on the jar and shake. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the sprig of fresh tarragon. Store in the refrigerator or use immediately. Store any unused dressing in the refrigerator.


  1. Tarragon! I knew there was something in that dressing I couldn't quite put my finger on. Now it makes sense. (And I love Bella's story. Great image!)

  2. Thank you Bobbie Sue and Bella for the memories. Yes, the salad.. wonderful!