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.

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.

Le Déjeuner Dominical

November 3, 2013

IMG_8325Sunday lunch, le déjeuner domenical, is a wonderful thing in France. I’ve written about it before here, but it bears repeating: Sunday lunch, if you’re lucky, lasts until supper time, and your guests will sit around the table happily eating and drinking until it gets dark, at which time, if you want them to leave, you can invite them to stay for supper. It’s a great custom and a deeply ingrained part of French culture that we love to share.

Today’s déjeuner dominical was beautifully adorned by Dorindo’s gorgeous flower arrangement. Even if I didn’t adore Dorindo himself I’d wish I could import him to the U.S., because no one does flowers like he does. And I wanted beauty, because this was my foray into serving tripes à la Lyonnaise, and even though I happen to find cow stomachs beautiful, it’s possible that not everyone does..

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But first Alain, Marie-France, Shel and I sat around drinking what will probably be the last rosé of the year, nibbling on pretty little trifles

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and chatting about everything that’s happened in the last 20 months. Meanwhile I was fervently hoping for success on the tripe front, since Alain has a Lyon connection  and I was hoping to make a convincing version of the classic dish for someone who really knows how it should taste. Later we would eat an anchovy and garlic-rubbed lamb shoulder with a cauliflower purée and green beans, a perfect Saint-Félicien cheese, a sweet piece of pascade Cévenole for the three of them, and I knew that all of that would be delicious, but meanwhile, I was fretting over the tripe.

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I’d slivered it up, after simmering it yesterday. I’d sliced onions, chopped garlic and parsley, cooked it in lard and butter, added wine and vinegar, and it was about 92% as delicious as the version I had in Lyon a few days ago. I think that simmering it a bit longer, slivering it a bit finer, and perhaps adding a little more vinegar, and I’d have nailed it 100%. Nonetheless, it was really and truly delicious, and even Shel ate it, which is saying a lot.

IMG_8340There’s no reason that this can’t be successfully made in the U.S., the only hard part is finding the cow stomach. But if you have an Asian market in the neighborhood, it’s totally worth getting one and making this. I promise. Remember, Shel ate it, and liked it!

Tripes à la Lyonnaise

Get a cow stomach (the reticulum, if it’s labeled like that. It should look like a bowl, or a deflated ball, and will probably weigh about 1 1/2 pounds.)

Place the stomach in a large pan, fill with cold water to cover, and add a peeled and halved onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook very gently for an hour and a half to two hours. Drain and let cool.

Cut the tripe into long slivers, fairly fine, and set aside.

Peel and slice two medium-small onions, peel and chop a large clove of garlic. Sauté these in butter, about 4-5 Tablespoons, plus a good pinch of salt, until golden.

In another larger skillet, melt 3-4 Tablespoons of lard and add the tripe. Cook over medium-high heat until it’s sizzling and some of the tripe has turned golden. Add some white wine, about 3/4 of a cup, and let it simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the tripe is again sizzling. Add the onions and all of the butter from their pan to the tripe. Add plenty of salt and pepper, a big handful of chopped parsley, and stir until it’s all sizzling and beautiful. Now start adding some wine vinegar, it smells strong at first, but it is quickly soaked up. You want a definite vinegar taste, but don’t drown it. I’d estimate that you’ll need about 3-4 Tablespoons, but add it bit by bit and go by taste. Add more butter and salt if necessary.

The result should be tender and golden, slightly crusty, quite buttery, with an appetizing tang of vinegar. One recipe serves four as a starter, but you’ll need to double this for a main course. It’s a super comfort food, and as soon as we get home I’m planning to go on a cow stomach quest, as I’m looking forward to eating it on a grey and drizzly northwest winter’s day. They have those days in Lyon too, after all, so the dish should feel right at home.

Inner Beauty: Cow

November 2, 2013

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I promised you cow stomach, more correctly, cow reticulum, or as it’s called here bonnet de boeuf, and there you have it. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m not sure why the inside of a cow needs to be beautiful, but it is.

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It’s an amazing collection of textures, considering that it’s just one part of just one animal. I don’t know why a cow needs so many textures in just one of its stomachs, but I’m sure there’s a reason.

IMG_8314Probably I could shellac this, or paint it brightly, pass it off as sculpture, and make enough to earn my next few plates of tripes à la Lyonnaise. It’s that gorgeous. I imagine that you’re wondering whether it smells weird, coming from the inside of a cow. Actually, it smells a tiny bit of bleach when you buy it, the bleach that was used to clean it perfectly.

So now, following an amalgam of recipes, I have my bonnet de boeuf simmering for “une bonne heure,” a little over an hour, in water with onion, garlic, salt and pepper. I think the guy said to add white wine to the water too, but since you add wine to the dish itself, I’m probably remembering wrong. Anyway, it’s wine-less at this stage, and when it’s done simmering and has cooled, I’ll be slicing it up into fine strips and chilling it overnight until I’m ready to cook it for our Sunday lunch guests tomorrow. If you can get a cow stomach you can cook along – I’m thinking that an Asian market will have one.

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I got mine here, where they also sell lamb from the Alps of Provence, beef from Aubrac, milk-fed lamb, farm pork from the Auvergne, lamb from the salt marshes around the Mont Saint Michel, poultry from Bresse, milk-fed veal from the Limousin, and wild game, when it’s in season. See why we love Lyon?

The Pleasures Of Lyon

November 1, 2013

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We went up to Lyon, our favorite city in France, perhaps because it’s the one we know the best, to see our friends Lucy and Loïc (whose lovely nude this is), and to do what we always do in Lyon: eat fabulously, shop, and walk around admiring the city. In the past we’ve always come for Shel’s visits at the cancer center, but this time the trip was just, as the French say “pour le fun.” That’s right, there’s actually no word for fun in French, so they’ve adopted the English word. The French have a lot of fun, but there’s no one word that carries the same meaning, which I find peculiar.

IMG_8258When we arrived at the Avignon train station we discovered a fun new toy – a station where three people can sit and pedal. At first I thought it was part of some national exercise campaign, but actually it’s even cleverer than that: it’s a place to plug in your phone and recharge its batteries by pedaling. Now there’s an idea that we ought to import.

IMG_8274Lucy introduced us to a charming café on the Croix Rousse hill called Le Canut et les Gones, where I had one of the best soups of my life, a velouté of trompettes de la mort and pied de mouton mushrooms with a chantilly of foie gras drifting on top of the soup.  After lunch we went to Lucy’s teaching kitchen Plum Lyon where she and I spent several hours cooking up a complicated and interesting supper of oeufs en meurette and little ballotines of rabbit and veal stuffed with more of the same excellent mushrooms that had been in my lunchtime soup.

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We spent the next day wandering around the area of the lovely Place des Terreaux

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with its stunning Fontaine Bartholdi, which, according to the All-Knowing Wikipedia, depicts France as a woman seated in a chariot controlling the four great rivers of France, represented by wildly uncontrolled, nostril-dilated, and truly ferocious-looking horses.

But to tell the truth, we were in that neighborhood for the shopping, since Lyon is one of the few places in France where I can easily get shoes and clothes in my size. A new pair of boots, a dress, and a vest later, I was as happy as I’ve been in ages, and we were off to Vieux Lyon for lunch.

IMG_8302Vieux Lyon is a pretty area of steep cobbled streets

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and picturesque old buildings, but this time we were there for the food. Because really, when you’re in Lyon, you have to eat as much as possible because you can eat better there, for less strain on your credit card, that anywhere else in France, so far as I can tell.

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We love the cozy little Restaurant du Soleil, where Shel always has their giant quenelle, a specialty of Lyon, and not like anything I’ve ever had elsewhere. This time I had their tripes à la Lyonnaise, which was un vrai délice, something astonishingly delicious, and quite different from other tripe dishes I’ve eaten in France. When I quizzed our charming server he explained that it was made with bonnet de boeuf, a round part that’s one of a cow’s three stomachs, called the reticulum in English, as opposed to the usual tripe in France which is made from pig.

He gave me a hasty description of the recipe and so I made a flying run through the Halles Paul Bocuse, in search of a bonnet de boeuf that I could grab quickly before we missed our train. I succeeded in finding one, as well as some beautiful cheeses from La Mère Richard, all of which I stuffed into the overhead compartment of the train. I did notice some delicate sniffing and curious glances cast in my direction, and so I had to explain that no, it was not any part of my personal stomach that was producing those slightly indelicate aromas, but my purchases from Les Halles, which made our fellow passengers nod and smile indulgently.

So now the bonnet is reposing in my freezer, and on Sunday I’ll be making my best attempt at tripes à la Lyonnaise. I’ll keep you posted, if only to show you the bonnet in its original state, since cow reticulum isn’t a common ingredient, however lovely, however Lyonnais.