Archive for November 2013

Pie Party

November 28, 2013

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So with all the best intentions, I made a schedule for today that involved starting to make pies at 9:00. But when I woke up at 6:30, like a kid on Christmas morning, I realized that there was no way I could wait to start making pies. By 8:00 all three pies were well underway, and I had used a prodigious number of eggs for such an early hour.

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By 9:15 all three pies were cooling on the counter, pecan, nutmeg maple cream, and pumpkin. I love making pie, because it’s such a homey activity, and pie makes people happy in a way that cake doesn’t. Pie says wow, you made that for me? Pie says my grandma used to make that. Pie says eat me.

DSC_7761Three pies and a narcissus blooming on the counter, that’s a great start to Thanksgiving morning. I can always find many reasons to be thankful, but today, because we’ve had so much bad medical news lately, I’m most thankful to Shel for staying on the planet and making my life complete. So here’s to Shel, the best thing that ever happened to me, even though he refuses to eat pumpkin pie.

And here’s to all of you, may your day be filled with love and good food. Because really, that’s what it’s all about. And pie.

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Turkey Trot

November 26, 2013

DSC_7734Cruising at a trot all day today, heading into a gallop tomorrow. What I can suggest: if you’re making Jean-George Vongerichten’s Squash on Toast, be careful about what kind of squash you get. I chose the banana squash for its outer beauty, but it turns out that an oranger, drier squash would have been better. Try a kabocha, for example. This makes a sweet and sour squash and onion mixture whose flavor is alluring, but mine looks pretty terrible. I’ll be using the mint garnish heavily.

DSC_7739However, after all the peeling and seeding, my compost bin does look terrific.

DSC_7743We’ve had Thanksgiving in France for so many years recently that I can’t do it without the sweet and delicate flavor of olive oil from Moulin Paradis, imported in my suitcase for this very cook-fest. I used it, among other things, to make the wildly popular Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad, which has the advantage, reportedly, of tasting better after a day or two in the fridge. It tastes pretty darn delicious right now, so if it continues to get better it will be dynamite.

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I used this fabulous Cougar Gold aged cheddar in my Low Carb Cauliflower Stuffing, which is basically this recipe, although I omit the sausage to make it vegetarian, use fresh herbs and amp them up, and add a couple of teaspoons of poultry seasoning.

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And I made Rosemary Roasted Nuts, which is basically this recipe, although I use half again as much butter, and a couple of spoonfuls of piment d’Espelette instead of the cayenne. This recipe is a real low carb doozy, because it’s one of the few herb-roasted nut recipes that doesn’t contain any sort of sweeteners. It’s addictive.

And there you have it, another day in the kitchen. Hurray for one more tomorrow.

Thanksgiving Tempest

November 25, 2013

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I’ve been cooking up a storm the past couple of days, and I imagine that you have been too. I love to spend five days cooking for Thanksgiving, the vexing problem being that we only have one fridge in our new house, so there’s a lot of strategizing involved, not to mention freezing and thawing and putting stuff outdoors, even though it’s above 40° in the middle of the day.

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The cranberries turned into Spiked Cranberry Relish, made with a generous pour of Grand Marnier and awaiting a last-minute dose of toasted pecans.

DSC_7692Turkey parts and various aromatics turned into Michael Ruhlman’s heavenly turkey stock, which takes forever to make but is no work at all. The ferry threw itself into the photo for free, but it makes my stock look oh-so-Northwest.

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I’ve made, blind baked, and frozen

DSC_7714-001pie crusts for pumpkin and Nutmeg Maple Cream pies, and for a pecan tart that is one invariable part of our holiday. It’s funny about those pies. Although I don’t even taste them, I really wanted to try something new this year, just for the fun of making a new pie, hence the addition of the nutmeg maple concoction. It sounds like you couldn’t go wrong with that combination, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

The turkey is spatchcocked and dry brined and resting hugely in my not-gargantuan fridge. I’ve also made and frozen the base for Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Aged White Cheddar (Cougar Gold 3 year aged, the best!), and made the cornbread for my famous Family Harmony Stuffing, the one stuffing that finally ended the “but my Mom didn’t make it like that” wars. And I made a beautiful little porcini sauce for the low carb and vegetarian eaters who shun my normal gravy. And toasted a lot of nuts, but that probably doesn’t count.

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I haven’t decided yet whether to include these gorgeous peppers in our Thanksgiving meal, or whether to let them be part of the holiday decor and then turn them into lecso, to lighten things up a bit after the feasting in done.

So whew, and back at it again tomorrow and the next day. I hope you’re having as much fun in the kitchen as I am – cooking, it’s something for which I can really be thankful.

Putain De Plomberie

November 21, 2013

DSC_7682Several friends in France have asked for pictures of our new house, so here you go, chers amis: this is our bedroom.

It’s so ironic, because we’re always complaining about the zillions of plumbing problems we have in France, and we tell our French friends about how we never, no never, well, hardly ever, have any plumbing soucis in America. Well, that was before last week, when some ultra-slow toilet flushing called for a camera scoping out the drains from the master bathroom, which in its own perverse turn called for

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a huge trench to be dug in our bedroom floor. Our newly-sealed concrete floor, under our newly-laid carpet. It practically made me weep to see it all cracked open, dust and heaps of dirt everywhere, the old and corroded cast iron pipe laid bare, ready to be replaced with clean and modern PVC pipe. This is all right next to our bed, which is now separated from this pipe-fest by floor-to-ceiling sheets of the ever-fashionable Visqueen. The good news is that we can still use the bathroom, if we can manage to go outside, cross the deck, hop over the trench, and then, put nothing but water down the drain. Hello guest bedroom.

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At least we don’t have to deal with Monsieur “oh putain” Maurin, the plumber at our house in France. We joke that you can predict the bill as soon as he arrives by how many oh, putains he utters, and believe me, for a word not translatable in a family blog, he utters dozens. And since he knows next to nothing about plumbing, we normally have to call him every month. Fortunately, it’s the landlord who pays.

Here, though, it’s we who pay, and we who choose the folks who work on our house. Thus, since Monday, seven different people have removed carpet, cut concrete, dug dirt, and relaid pipe. Tomorrow the concrete will be re-poured, after the weekend the carpet will be re-laid, and then, ta da, toilet paper will re-enter our downstairs life. So, far away friends, that’s our glamorous American life. At least this time, if anyone says oh putain, it’s us.

And Now There’s Toby

November 16, 2013

DSC_7679Ever since we lost our beloved Beppo at the beginning of September, we’ve been grief-stricken, and Zazou has been so lonely. Yesterday we brought Toby home, all huge ears, giant paws, super-long tail, all two pounds of him. He’ll never be a great beauty, and he wasn’t even the cutest kitten at the shelter, but he insisted on being ours.

DSC_7654-001Shel and I sat in the little room where you can take the kittens out of their cages, and let Toby convince us to take him home. Tiny as he is, he’d jump on my lap, look me in the eye, say one little meow to me, then hop down, run over to Shel, and repeat the performance. He did this dozens of times, until we absolutely couldn’t say no, even though I’d imagined a prettier cat, even a tabby like Beppo was. But no, Toby was obviously meant to be ours, and he spent the night sleeping on my arm or under my chin, depending on how I was lying; every time I turned over he jumped over to the other side of my pillow so that he could be right by my face. That’s the kind of cat we need to help heal our deep sorrow.

DSC_7641This is about as close as Zazou will let him get, so far, and she’s said some pretty rude things to him, but she follows him around and watches him intently, and even slept on the bed with us for part of the night, so I think it’s going to be alright in a week or so.

les palmiers 707-1There’s no replacing Beppo, of course. We learned this week that he had been hit by a car, now he’s buried in our garden. The same garden where I once whispered in his ear “this is your garden, Beppo, you’re safe here and no coyotes can get you.” But of course, no one’s safe anywhere. There’s the scorpion under the chair, the careless car outside the gate, Monday we’ll get the results of Shel’s latest scans, all you can do is do your best to keep on breathing, keep on loving. And now there’s Toby.

(Not) Eating The Unborn

November 13, 2013

DSC_7631-001Rebecca slaughtered chickens and brought me these orange orbs as a gift. To me they’re terribly exotic, and I do mean terribly. They glisten all golden, a vivid red-orange color that I can’t explain, but it somehow creeps me out. They’re a little firm, unexpectedly. They’re unborn eggs. They don’t have a white, they don’t have a shell, they were never laid, they seem like an awfully intimate part of a chicken. I, who don’t shrink from eating tripe, chicken feet, or snails, am slightly terrified by these eggs.

I searched and asked, and aside from one Filipino adobo dish and an Indian curry, the universal answer to the “how to eat the unborn” question seemed to be this: drop them in a beautiful chicken soup. People whose grandmothers came from Eastern Europe have fond memories of chasing these little orbs around their childhood soup bowls. Some say they’re creamy, some say they’re rubbery, but they all remember them fondly.

Serendipitously, I had been planning to make chicken soup tonight anyway, since I had a new recipe I wanted to try. It’s the kind of grey, chilly weather when nothing sounds as good as soup, unless, possibly, it’s soup with unborn eggs. I had visions of a transcendental super-soup supper. But then, reality intervened.

Fifteen dollars worth of organic chicken wings and a recipe from a well-known blog that promised a life-changing broth yielded the most insipid chicken broth I’ve ever made or tasted in my whole entire life. The egglets turned out to be surrounded by a membrane that turned greyish upon cooking and had to be peeled off with one’s fingers, right there in the bowl. The flavor of the eggs themselves was nonexistent, the texture unappealing, the whole gestalt was beurk, as the French are wont to say. Five bites into supper I felt inspired to dump my entire bowl into the compost, which I summarily did. I can’t remember the last time I made something that was only marginally edible, but apparently it can happen, even to me.

The whole affair was a disgrace and a discouragement and left us with no dinner into the bargain. Maybe you had to have eaten them as a child. Maybe the unborn just need to be relegated to the same place as the undead – far, far from me. They made a pretty picture, though.

Season’s End

November 8, 2013

IMG_8348We’re packing, we’re leaving. We’ve done it before, many times now, and yes, it sort of does get easier. We leave some things here, fewer and fewer each time, boxed up against a possible return. The things we left last time we feared we’d never see again, but we were so happy to find them still here: my pretty wineglasses, my special pillow, a cozy poncho, Shel’s snuggly robe and slippers. Other stuff, like a big box of coat hangers, a small box of Band-Aids….what were we thinking when we put them in storage the last time?

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We say our farewells with hugs and kisses, but mostly without tears, this time. We’ve said adieu forever several times now, and it begins to feel like crying wolf. We always think we won’t come back, and then we do. Our friends all hold us close for several long moments, then go on with their lives.

IMG_8357We’ll be going back to rain and fog and power outages, if recent reports from the island hold true. Here the garden is all overgrown with end-of-summer exuberance, not yet frost-bitten. We’ve had rain and sun and warm, sticky overcast, but we haven’t had any cold. I’ve barely touched the sweaters I brought with me. We’ve lit neither fire nor candle, and all that’s about to change.

IMG_8354There’s even still a bit of lavender in flower here, although it seems a bit ominous, at the beginning of November. Everyone here believes in climate change, there are no skeptics so far as I can tell.

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And there’s still a rose in bloom in the garden that’s soon to be not-ours, once again. I have a beautiful garden at home and I know I won’t miss this one, once we leave, but I have loved it and taken care of it, and am saddened by the way it’s been neglected since the last time we left. We feel that way about the house too, tsking and tutting over little things that would have been taken care of, had we been here. None of it is really ours, but in a way, all of it is.

IMG_8350This used to be Beppo’s favorite little tree to climb, and it still holds an empty space where he used to be, right at the heart, just as I do.

IMG_8356Once again we don’t know what lies ahead, but that’s not new, we never do. A life with cancer will do that to you, and if you’re very lucky, as we have been so many times, you can have a life full of love and beauty in between the moments of sheer terror. We can’t see into the depths of the future, and perhaps that’s a good thing. But once again, we’re leaving one life and heading for another, another scan, another chat with the oncologist.

At least now, after having left so many times, we know that France will still be here, and that we’ll always have a home and a warm circle of friends here. Hoping to come back before we even leave, that’s us in a nutshell.