Archive for August 2009

France Awaits Us

August 31, 2009

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La France nous tend les bras.  I love the expression tendre les bras, which means to open one’s arms to, to call out to, to welcome.  Normally I would use it about a comfy chair that just calls out to me “here, collapse into my arms and rest,” but in this case, it’s France herself that calls to me,  Soon, my darling, very soon.

But before the joyful part of the reunion there will definitely be collapsing.  Moving to another country is very complicated, when one isn’t just packing it all into a container and trusting one’s cherished belongings to the open sea.  In our case, because we’ll be coming back, sometime, who knows when, getting ready to go is a tortuous process of triage.  Lots of things must be left behind, because the reality is that one can only take so many suitcases on the plane, and the even harsher reality is that once in Paris, one can only jockey so many suitcases onto the train heading south.  But lots of things sneak into the suitcase, just one more sweater, one more book, and before you know it we’re sitting on them in the time-honored tradition of suitcase-closers since the dawn of travel.  And so let me just say that the number and weight of our suitcases is challenging, unreasonable, vaguely ridiculous, not to say totally hopeless.

Therefore, quite reasonably, I anticipate a collapse occurring somewhere between Paris and Avignon.  You’ll probably be able to hear it from wherever you are.  It will sound like this “Holy ****,  I can’t believe we brought all this **** with us!”  I don’t need to translate that, right?

So the next time we speak, French Letters will have been repatriated.  We’re going to be spending 5 weeks in a different part of France, not far from Toulouse, and new adventures beckon.  Right after we get done collapsing we’ll be chasing them, trailing a cloud of luggage, hopes, and dreams.    Au revoir, et à très bientôt.

Heart’s Home

August 27, 2009

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This is a little shrine in our home here on the island, a tiny house, with tiny versions of us in it.  It may be made of clay, but it’s very us, disheveled, imperfect, hopeful, radiant, close together, matching deeply, different as night and day.  The real live Shel has perhaps a bit less hair than his alter ego, and as for the alter me, she doesn’t like to wear a bra any more than I do.  But to the core  it’s us, snuggled together valiantly in whatever shelter we can find.

These days we’re talking a lot about what home means, and where it really is.   Every day we do the same dance, the Do We Really Want to Leave Here dance.  Every day the island seems more beautiful, harder and harder to leave.  But then, we remind ourselves, not too long ago we felt the same way about leaving France.

The truth is that suddenly, without really meaning for it to happen, we have two homes, two nests, two shrines to our life together.  And the bottom line in the France vs. US nesting wars always boils down to the same thing: so long as we’re together, that’s where home is.

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Sometimes being together is the thing that drives us crazy, but mostly, it’s the thing we live for.  Very soon we’ll be leaving this home, less than a week from now.  Not soon enough we’ll hold Beppo and Zazou  tight and apologize to them for the summer they’ve spent without us.  We’ll be living for five weeks  in a different part of France, the four of us, a family vacation.  And then we’ll all go home together,  to settle in once again, back into our French life.

Right now we scarcely have time to think about it all, so intent are we on packing and arranging, rushing around in a semi-frantic state of preparation.  It’s exhausting, being bi-national, and we’ve been known to fall into bed some nights and start snoring before so much as  a bonne nuit escapes our lips, let alone a goodnight kiss.

What makes it all possible though, all a thrill, is the fact that we’re together in this big world, no matter what.  Wherever we find ourselves, that guy’s got me coming and going, and I’m here to stay.

I Want My Life Back

August 22, 2009

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This spicy,  sweet, glazed Thai pork candy made by my neighbor Tum is one of my favorite flavors in the world, although I might never taste it again.  Or will I?

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It’s the season, but I eat neither fig nor nectarine.  What if I did?

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In this new life, this diabetic, low carb life, what I eat is meat,

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meat,

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meat.  And as you might have gathered, what I really love is

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giant piles of vegetables,

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and fruits.  Every vegetable, every fruit, every meal, that’s the life I like.  Wait, I take it back.  I’ll skip the kohlrabi and purslane, please.

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Oh, and also I love to bake bread, although that’s not really necessary in France,

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and I love to bake pastry, which, of course, is also not necessary in France, but that’s beside the point.  It’s fun to do, and I miss it.

I could make all these foods and feed them to you, but I wouldn’t share them with you.  And what’s food without sharing?  “It’s fuel,” they say, “stop thinking about food all the time.”  But sometimes it seems like the fun of making and sharing beautiful food is more important than anything.

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But the rest of the time it’s this simple thing, having blood that looks like non-diabetic blood, that matters more than anything.  Not going blind, losing my toes or feet, not being on dialysis, that’s what matters.  Even if it means that when you come to my house you’ll be eating lots of meat.

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I remember when my heart was light, long ago, far away.

I remember when I could cook what I wanted, then eat it.

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I remember eating out when my only question to the server was “what’s the most interesting thing on the menu?” and not “is there any sugar in that?”

I’m not saying that I don’t love my eyes and my feet and my kidneys, because you know I do.  But when Dr. Kim looks at my careful graph of how I’ve made my blood sugar fall and fall until it looks practically like normal blood sugar, and she says “in all my years in practice no patient of mine has ever done what you’ve done”   I’m thinking “yeah, and probably none of them can cook like I do, either.”  Like I did, I remind myself, cook like I did.

Because now I have a new life and it’s a blood-based life.  Not spontaneous, not whimsical, not driven by a passion for playing in the kitchen nor by my desire to bring pleasure to my guests.  Nope, now it’s all about the blood, and the sweat, because walking miles every day is no longer optional: diabetics must exercise.  And it’s about the tears, because they’re not optional either.

I want my old life back, tattered though it might have been, because it was mine, a cook’s life,  and I loved it.

Facing The Music

August 20, 2009

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One of the most enchanting things about the Olympic Music Festival is that it takes place in a beautiful barn,with some of the audience seated on straw bales,

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and the mules are right outside the door listening to the Dvorak with you.  Either that, or they’re waiting for the applause, after which carrots appear as if by magic.  I’d rather think that it’s affection for the music that keeps them clustered near the fence, looking hopeful and attentive.

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We were there with our beautiful farmer Rebecca, who’s been feeding us her vegetable jewels for years and who looks better in bare feet than most people do in shoes,

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and her husband Bill, who,  it is now revealed, looks cuter in my hat than I do myself.

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It was a day for hats, hot and sunny, and when we ran into Nan and SueEllen they were sporting their own classic straw versions,

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one of which I would have loved to snatch, in order to cut two ear holes and pop it on this guy.  I restrained myself, of course, although probably a mule that listens to Fauré and Beethoven really likes to keep his ears free and clear.

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It’s likely that the mules paid more attention to the music than some of the humans in attendance, naming no names, you understand.  But then, the day wasn’t only about music, or mules.

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It was about being with people whom we love and will soon be leaving, about being in a dreamy place that we won’t be seeing again for a long time.  It was about feeling truly at home for a few more days before launching ourselves once again into the steady amazement and richness of our life in France.  Love and loss and opportunity, and the music to weave it all together.  Sniff.

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Ballard Bon Voyage

August 17, 2009

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In the beginning, all was simple.  Calm, clear, a few friends, warm farewells, quiet plans to meet next year in France.  The best martini I’ve ever had, courtesy of Dayne, the best bartender I know.

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A gorgeous table,

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gorgeous guests, all the necessary elements for a delightful evening.

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Dayne keeps a serious working bar,

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mixing his excellent potions with considerable subtlety.  Treacherous subtlety, as it turns out

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since two of his alluring libations went straight to the head of my little camera, which started acting mysteriously impaired.

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My poor PowerShot lost its cool at the bar, where it was supposed to be documenting Dayne’s mixology,

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nor did it fare much better as we adjourned to the dining room for Wendy’s delicious grilled lamb and vegetables.  I swear, the food was all in focus when she served it!

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The only food that would behave itself properly was the cheese course, although it too was definitely under the influence

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of the several fine reds that had gone before.

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As you might imagine, a riotously good time was had by all, and as we had wisely planned to sleep over with our friends, the fact that we were still at the table as the very last ferry home  chugged off in the wee hours was of no concern to us, tra la.

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When we arose, slightly bedraggled from staying up so late (really, it was only the lateness of the hour, honest) the abandoned dining table looked remarkably peaceful and civilized, only slightly wine-stained, scarcely the worse for wear.

We went out into a sunny Ballard morning, and fell into the arms and charms of

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the local cupcake factory,

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and the lush gardens of the Locks.

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I’m always enchanted by the beautiful classic style of the Ballard Locks,

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where visitors come from all over the world to watch

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the boats passing from Lake Washington into Puget Sound, a journey from sweet to salt, waterwise.

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But it’s not all about the boats, for the surrounding gardens are a magical place, with room for a puppy to pirouette,

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and for families to frolic al fresco.

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Happily for us, it’s also practically next door to one of our favorites, the Ray’s Boathouse Cafe, which thoughtfully provided us with this succulent smoked seafood salad lunch

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and a wedding to peek in on, giving us a glimpse of the happiness and hope borne of a white dress on a blue-sky day in beautiful Ballard.

It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to Ballard, to our friends, to the Locks, but in two weeks, we’ll manage somehow.

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We’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.  For now, we’re still up in the air.

Now We Are Two

August 10, 2009

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Two is the number of the day.  For one thing, our friend Maryse went back to France yesterday, and so today our little ménage à trois has turned back into our usual twosome.  But also today is the birthday of French Letters, two years old and still growing happily.

In traditional blog style, let me take you on a little trip back through the past year.  If you missed any of these moments, or just want to relive them with me, click your way through this!

This was the year I learned to make lecso, which is a perfect dish for this time of year and don’t you forget it.  Make some while the peppers are perfect.  This was the year I worked with a food photographer for the first time,  and met an old friend that I’d never seen before.  This year we traveled to Amsterdam and to Bretagne, where we visited a glorious little island where no cars are allowed and glassblowing thrives.

Funny little Zazou came to live with us, and we went on a three week roller coaster ride when Shel was in the hospital in France and a scorpion was in my bed.  Cold weather came, and I made one of the best lamb dishes ever. America elected a new President, and we learned what the French think of Obama.

France celebrated its long-lost soldiers, we discovered the food of Burkina Faso, and we finally found some really good coffee, which is harder than you’d think in France.  We fought with cancer almost every day, and just for fun we invited a French rock band over for Thanksgiving dinnerSnow fell on the south of France, we helped celebrate the return of the black truffle, and I spent the best moment of my life thus far.

France went out on strike, I made the best terrine I’ve ever made,  and I came upon some fine French wine (which will be a very important part of our new life in France, but that’s a story for another week).   I learned more about death in France than I ever wanted to know, I reinvented lapin à la moutarde,  and we spent Earth Hour the same way millions of other people did.

I cooked a kid for the first, but not the last, time.   We were invited to a gorgeous French Easter,  we sang and played our hearts out with a group of new friends, and went to a French birthday party.

We won a French cooking contest!

We swallowed our tears and left France,  went to an American desert wedding, and rode the train across America.  We came home to a house where everything was frozen in time, and I rediscovered a pineapple upside down cake that will make you weep for joy.

We indulged our insatiable cravings for Mexican food, and visited my hometown  San Francisco.  We had a semi-conjugal visit from our ex-cat, spent a few days in lovely Walla Walla, and came home to a pile of paperwork related to refinancing our house and doing our taxes (about which, lucky you, no posts were or will ever be written).

And now we’re slowly moving toward packing it all in again and heading back to France.   Three weeks more of Our American Life, and then French Letters will be repatriated to France.  We’ll reclaim Beppo and Zazou (be still, my heart) and start anew in a strange land, where we’re no longers strangers.  We’re resolved to travel a lot more in the coming year, and like it or not, I’ll be having a Big Birthday.  There’s so much to look forward to, right after a three week slog to get ready to go.  Allons-y!

Feed Your Friends

August 9, 2009

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You’ve had that sinking feeling.  At least, I have, and if I have it’s pretty much a sure bet that you have too.  Someone whose diet is completely different from yours is coming to dinner, and you’re in a slight panic about what to serve.  You want to make that person feel comfortable and welcome without making everyone else feel deprived.

Relax, your mystery guest is not a vegan, although I could make suggestions for a vegan too, if you happen to have one in your life.  What you’re getting is a low carb eater, possibly a diabetic, but not necessarily.  Anyone who limits their intake of carbs will be thrilled to come to your house for this dinner, and the other guests won’t know the difference.  They’ll think it’s delicious, and the words “low carb” will never cross their minds.

First off, for a starter, make this delicious spinach flan.  I make this often, as it’s truly wonderful with impeccably fresh spinach.  It might be good with old ratty spinach too, for that matter, but why waste your time?  I like it made in small ramekins, since that way everyone gets an individual serving, which awakens a charming  “mine, all mine!” response in most everyone.

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For a main course, grill up a pile of vegetables, and serve them with grilled salmon, chicken, or meat.  Your low carb eater isn’t going to want barbecue sauce, but you can serve it on the side and just use an herb or spice rub on the meat for grilling.  Lots of people do want a starch, though, and I suggest getting a loaf of great bread and some good butter.  I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it’s more inclusive if everyone eats the same cooked dishes, at least if I’m the one doing the cooking, so bread seems like the perfect alternative to something like potato salad.

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And here’s a fun dessert platter you can riff on.  A couple of great cheeses and some nuts, some good crackers (these are the excellent Mary’s Gone gluten free crackers), a little fruit, especially berries, which are the lowest carb fruits, and a bit of dark chocolate or chocolate cookies.  With a platter like that,  it’s a mix and match dessert for everyone, and everyone’s dessert plate will look different, so no one stands out as having a special diet.

Lots of people feel shy about making special dietary requests.  Of course, the number of people who insist that you only serve them water that was bottled on a chilly Tuesday morning before the first crow call at an elevation over 7,000 feet, is also truly appalling.  But with this menu you’ll make everyone happy, which is what counts, and those who count carbs will be the happiest of all.