Julie Anne Rhodes

Do you believe in ghosts? I do. I don’t know if they are just in my heart or their energy is truly around me, but I often feel a closeness to loved ones lost. It is not spooky or foreboding. It usually sweeps over me with a bittersweet memory, an enveloping feeling of warmth, and sometimes something I can only describe as a fleeting heightened awareness of the divine order of life. Like someone is holding a flashlight that illuminates within the mind as to why things happen as they do. The unfathomable suddenly makes sense and has meaning for a snapshot in time. Last night was one of those nights.

I recently reconnected with my friend, Madeleine Gallay, a woman of immense style and grace. There was only ever one common thread between us (or so we thought), our massively bigger than life friend Angelo Di Biase who lived in her guest house. When he died, Madeleine and I lost touch. Now that our lives have crossed paths again we find ourselves in vastly different, yet uncannily similar circumstances. We are both writing books. We are convinced that Angelo is sitting on a cloud somewhere happily orchestrating this reunion.
Angelo Di Biase, Julie Anne Rhodes, and Nick Rhodes

Last night we attended a screening of Coco Before Chanel, a film I’m not entirely sure if I loved more for it’s stunning wardrobe, breathtaking cinematography, and stellar performances (Audrey Tatou channeled Coco Chanel), or because I am simply enchanted with Coco Chanel herself. An incredibly strong woman who defied convention and broke through the previously male dominated world of fashion to emancipate women from corsets, leaving her simple yet elegant mark, while changing the fashion world forever. I walked away thinking Coco Chanel is my patron saint of dreams, then realized she truly is… I sleep under this Horst P. Horst photograph of her on my bedroom wall every night!
Coco Chanel photographed by Horst P. Horst
As I watched Coco’s story unfold I was reminded of a dashing French aristocrat I used to know in Paris called Kim D’Estanville. His mother had been the first woman in Paris to drive a motor car and was Coco Chanel’s best friend.Sadly, Kim died in 1991 from AIDS, but not before having a brief affair with our friend Tina Chow who was the first woman we knew to die of that scourge as well. Tina’s daughter, China, used to date Madeleine’s son Charlie back in those days, the two of them often showing up backstage at Duran Duran concerts together… another coincidence not lost on the two of us. We sat marveling over how intertwined lives truly are, all over the globe, transcending generations.

Julie Anne Rhodes
Madeleine asked me “what do you think it all means? My reply, “look at all the fabulous people we’ve been blessed with knowing, indirectly or otherwise, that have influenced who we are today. Coco and her influence on how we dress, Kim with his fabulous stories of his childhood, Tina’s tragic death, and China… a young woman just coming into her sexual awareness as she loses her mother to a sexually transmitted disease… the very same disease that took the life of the man that ties us all together, Angelo. We witnessed all of this unfold from the outskirts, but tonight it was against the backdrop of a survivor who channeled her pain and loss into being one of the greatest creative geniuses of the last century. I think they are telling us it is our time to shine. I think Angelo is just trying to give us that same nudge as writers, he continually did when I was a model.”

Imagine this cast at the perfect apres film dinner, both living and dead. I would serve coq au vin. Classic French fare with humble roots, yet still rich in flavor. I like the play on Coco, and I’m certain the simplicity of the dish would appeal to her sense of style. While it is a time consuming dish to make, that only makes it more befitting the illustrious dinner guests.

A year ago I had the honor of assisting Chef Anne Willan, co founder (with Julia Child and James Beard) of the highly revered cooking school La Varenne in France. I would gladly add Chef Willan to the guest list as well… her dry Geordie wit would certainly keep things lively! This recipe and photograph is courtesy of her sensational cookbook ‘The Country Cooking of France’, possibly one of the most beautiful cookbooks I own, and definitely my bible when it comes to country French cooking.
Le Vrai Coq Au Vin

The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan

Servings: 8


  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • one 5-6 pound stewing hen or large roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 (6-ounce) piece of lean smoked bacon or thick-sliced bacon, cut into lardons
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth, more if needed
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, 4 sprigs thyme and 5-6 stalks parsley tied together with kitchen twine)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or more, if needed
  • 16 to 18 baby onions, peeled
  • 1/2 pound button mushrooms, trimmed and quartered if large
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1). For the marinade, combine the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, peppercorns, and wine in a saucepan, bring to boil, and simmer 5 minutes. Let marinade cool completely.

2). Pack the chicken pieces in a deep, nonmetallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade over them. Spoon the olive oil on top to keep the chicken moist. Cover and let the pieces marinade for at least one day, turning them from time to time, and up to 3 days if you like a full-bodied wine flavor.

3). Take the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels. Strain the marinade, reserving the liquid and the vegetables separately. Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

4). To cook the chicken, heat the vegetable oil in a saute pan or flameproof casserole over medium heat. Add the lardons and saute until browned and fat runs, about 5 minutes. Transfer them to a bowl using a straining spoon and set aside. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, to the pan and saute over medium heat until thoroughly browned, at least 10 minutes. Turn them and brown the other side, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.

5). Add reserved marinade vegetables to the saute pan over medium heat and fry until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring, until it browns, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in marinade liquid and bring to boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in the broth, shallots, garlic, and bouquet garni. Replace the chicken, pushing the pieces down under the sauce. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook, turning the chicken occasionally, until the pieces are tender and fall easily from a two-pronged fork, 1 to 1 1/4 hours for roasting chicken, and at least 30 minutes longer for stewing hen. If some of the pieces are tender before the others, remove them and set aside while the rest continue to cook.

6). Meanwhile, cook the garnish. Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add onions and brown them, shaking the pan from time to time so they color evenly, 5 to 7 minutes. Lower the heat, cover and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more. Lift out with a draining spoon and add to the lardons. Put the mushrooms in the pan, with a little more butter if needed, and saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add them to the lardons and onions.

7). When chicken is cooked, remove the pieces and set them aside. Wipe out the pan, add the garnish, and strain the sauce on top, discarding the vegetables and seasonings. Reheat the garnish and sauce on the stove top over medium heat. If the sauce seems thick, add a little more broth, taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the chicken pieces, pushing them down under the sauce, and heat gently for 3 to 5 minutes so the flavors blend. Coq au vin improves if you keep it, well covered, in the refrigerator for at least 1 day and up to 3 days so the flavors mellow.

8). To serve, reheat the chicken with garnish and sauce on the stove top if necessary. Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or individual plates, and spoon the garnish with a little sauce over them. Sprinkle the chicken with parsley and serve the remaining sauce separately.

Serving Suggestions: Start with Gratinee Lyonnaise (French onion soup) or Escargot a La Bourguignonne (snails with herb and garlic butter) , serve the Coq au Vin with either mashed potatoes or buttered noodles, and for dessert Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin (upside-down caramelized apple tart).
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  • October 9, 2009
    9:33 pm

    … a night of memories, even of places and people that have been gone too long. Beautiful, really gorgeous writing. (The blog's a book, not a reference point.)Madeleine Gallay

  • October 10, 2009
    10:10 pm

    Believing in ghosts….enveloping feeling of warmth….I have truly felt that myself during the years.So happy that you have reconnected with a friend. In the last couple of years I too reconnected with someone I knew. We had not seen each other for 20 odd years and it was through another dear friend that we had found each other again. I am so thankful to have her back in my life.It's your time to shine again Julie Anne.You deserve it.Beautiful writing as usual.Aussie Mum

  • October 10, 2009
    10:18 pm

    Merci beaucoup Madgal et Aussie Mum!

  • October 12, 2009
    7:44 am

    Julie Anne,There is a beautiful book called the Little Black Dress! It was given to me as a gift. Creativity comes in many forms. Yes I do believe in ghosts. They exist and they are with us. The movie Coco Chanel was so inspirational for me on many levels. Your comments have touched my soul. There are no coincidences. We will always attract what we believe. We must connect the dots to the highest level possible. It's a state of mind. A powerful state of mind. Use it wisely. You have the power.Lynn Marks

  • October 12, 2009
    5:14 pm

    "Your French/Coco blog is fanastique!"Denise Vivaldo