Archive for July 2017

Crossroads Of The Heart

July 28, 2017

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Somehow life in France always seems more vivid to me. I don’t know why, but when I’m there the smallest things glow with meaning and emotion. Every word and gesture seems nourished by an undercurrent of feeling.  Shel always said that when we lived there I was the happiest he’d ever seen me, and I think that’s still true. Something in me sings to be there, it’s an intimate experience of well-being, living in a place where le relationnel, the interpersonal, is the driving force of daily life.

I got a little French suntan last week while I was on vacation, but it’s already fading. I’m still thinking in French half the time, but it’s no longer all the time. I brought home with me the impulse to look prettier, fuss with myself a bit, that always descends on me when I’m there. That too shall pass, and I’ll once again go to the grocery store in embarrassing shirts with lackadaisical hair, not having looked in a mirror all day. That’s how I am here, less, in so many ways.

One reason is that there everyone knew and loved Shel, thought of me as his wife, seldom saw me alone. Here, no one’s ever known me to be anything but alone. Ça change la donne, which is hard to translate. It’s a game-changer, making you do something differently because of the hand you’ve been dealt.

In a certain way now I’m a half, but my friends in France all knew me when I was part of a whole. In another way I’m twice what I was, because, whatever happens, now it’s all up to me. I live another life in France, I speak another language, I’m someone else entirely.

But this time I was definitely an American, and faced a lot of gently- raised eyebrows. and a certain amount of tiptoeing around, until I took to saying notre soi-disant President, our so-called President. It’s a lot for one person to have to answer for, the horrific mistakes made by one’s country. I gained a much greater sympathy for the Germans of modern times, who must feel, as I do “it wasn’t me, I didn’t do it.”

All of which raises the question of who I want to be in this so-difficult world. In spite of  the legendary bureaucracy and the notorious plumbing, should I sink back into what feels to me like the warm bath of French life? Or is that bath bound to cool with the times, just as the American dream is shattering, unthinkably? Stand and fight, or flee toward peace?

It’s a time of deep, existential deliberation for me, and it’s France that inspires my contemplation. As a woman alone on this Earth, one with a foot in each of two worlds, I welcome your thoughts and counsel.

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La Piscine Et Le Glouglou

July 17, 2017

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Glouglou is a lovely onomatopoetic French word that technically means to gurgle, or glug, but also means to drink a lot, or describes what one drinks a lot of. And piscine is, of course, a swimming pool. And drinking, perhaps immoderately, while swimming? Well, that’s the story of the day.

Because all the while I was planning this trip to France I was dreaming of this pool. Perhaps it’s a shallow dream, to go where it’s hot and submerge oneself in cool water while drinking French wine, or the alluring, anise-flavored drink of the south, pastis. Ok, I’ll just go ahead and be shallow. I’m on vacation and shallowness is called for. Or, if not called for, at least allowed and indulged.

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Although down here near the deep end is where some of Shel’s ashes are buried, and it’s here that I place a glass of whatever glouglou I’m indulging in, so that I return regularly to where he lies, floating, paddling, and just generally hanging around his presence, on some level or other.

Today while there I suddenly began humming a bit of a song by Alain Bashung, “un jour je parlerai moins, jusq’au jour où je ne parlerai plus.” One day I will speak less, until the day when I speak no more. Which is, as you know, exactly how it went down. That inspired a pretty big gulp.

After a few lazy laps I passed by this same spot and heard in my head another French classic, “il y a longtemps que je t’aime, jamais je ne t’oublierai.”  I’ve loved you for such a long time, I’ll never forget you. And there a gulp wasn’t enough, I discovered that what I really needed was a saltwater face wash, which my own blue eyes obligingly provided.

Ok then, is that why I’m here, in this sort of garden of Eden?

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To revisit my past life? I thought I was coming to see old friends, before they, or I, get too old for a grueling journey between our two far-apart daily lives. I didn’t realize that this house would be a living cemetery of memory, albeit beautiful memory, and beautiful in its own right. Maybe more of a memory museum.

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But yes, the view from this pool, one of my very favorite spots in the world, is clouded, or enhanced, depending on your perspective, by the shadows of my former life. In this case, it’s analogous to a filter. Because for the first time I decided not to bring a camera, but to try to make a leap into the future by using just my phone to capture my days. And the filters cast shadows, and make things glow, just like my memories.

But I’m not reproaching myself for any of it. I plan to spend as much time in the pool as I possibly can, and if it’s saltier when I leave, well c’est la vie.

 

 

 

 

 

Heading Home

July 13, 2017

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Tomorrow I’m headed home to Uzès, one more time. It’s a funny thing about the idea of home. Sometimes I miss my island home, sometimes I feel right at home here in Walla Walla. Pretty much always I miss the home in Uzès where Shel and I lived for so long, the friends we loved, the familiar sights and sounds and flavors.

Because I stayed in another house when I was last there, two years ago, it’s been four whole years since I slept in the bed Shel and I shared for more than 1000 nights. Four years since I awoke to the tuneless, no-nonsense clanging of the bell in the nearby convent and the smell of bread from the bakery next door. And just over two years since we laid his ashes to rest by the pool where I plan to swim every day for the next week.

It’s going to be hot, in the 90s the whole time, and of course there’s no air conditioning in the house. Just the cool tile floors, the shutters closed during the day, the crisply ironed sheets, and the chilly, inviting swimming pool. I’m planning to spend a lot of time in that pool, doing just what I used to do. My trick is to put a nice glass of pastis at one end of the pool, then swim laps. Two laps, a sip. Four more laps, another sip. One can, and I used to, spend hours like that. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my cranky shoulder will hold up to that regime.

I’ll hug and kiss old friends but won’t be there long enough to make new ones. But even though the time will be almost unbearably short, that’s why I’m going, for those hugs and kisses, those beloved faces, the hot streets, the packed-beyond-belief summer market, to see which shops and restaurants have closed and which new ones have opened, to have lunch on the terrasse with a vast assemblage of patés, cheeses, and olives, and rosé by the gallon.

Ma vie d’antan me tend les bras. My old life is waiting for me with open arms, and tomorrow I’ll fly straight into them.

All Cherries, All The Time

July 10, 2017

Here in eastern Washington cherries are bustin’ out all over, so I thought I’d pop this post and recipe up again from 2011. It’s still the best one ever, à mon avis, in my opinion. And why am I speaking French again? Because this is the week I leave for France! I’ll be telling you more about that cherry on top soon.

French women are famously fastidious eaters, as we all know. Unless faced with this clafoutis, that is, in which case all bets are off. Recently I watched two women (for some reason clafoutis is considered to be kind of a feminine dessert) delicately sigh their way through generous servings, and then, apologizing just a little, just for form’s sake really, dive right in to seconds.

I had always found clafoutis ( pronounced klah-foo-tee) to be a bit insipid; after all, it’s more or less fruit baked in pancake batter. But this time, combining two different recipes that I found on the French website Marmiton.org I made the queen of clafoutis, a memorable clafoutis that will enchant all cherry lovers and encourage them to excessive consumption.  After all, cherries are only once a year, and it’s our duty to eat as many of them as possible during that sweet season.

The French believe that leaving the pits in the cherries makes the clafoutis more flavorful. It’s certainly easier on the cook, and provides lots of opportunity for playful pit-spitting and juicy red fingers when you serve the dessert.  The squeamish may pit their cherries, but if you want the real deal, leave your cherries intact.  As it were.

Cherry Clafoutis

For the cherries:
1 1/2 lbs perfectly ripe cherries, stems removed, unpitted
1 T butter
1 T sugar

For the batter:
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
a pinch of salt
5 T flour
5 T sugar
2 ounces butter
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
extra butter for topping

In a large non-stick pan melt the 1T butter and 1T sugar.  Add the cherries and let them slowly caramelize over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices begin to run and the cherries look glazed, about 10-15 minutes.  Butter a 9×13″ pan and place the cherries in it, distributing them evenly.

Preheat oven to 350° and while the cherries are cooling a bit, prepare the batter. Melt the butter in a small pan or bowl and set aside.  Beat the eggs well with the salt, using a whisk. Beat in the sugar, then sprinkle in the flour while continuing to whisk until batter is smooth.

Mix together the milk, melted butter, and vanilla and add it to the dry mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined. Pour the batter carefully over the cherries in the pan, being careful to keep the fruit evenly distributed.  Generously dot the top with little slivers of butter.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is puffed and deeply golden. Serve warm or at room temperature, warning your guests about the pits.

My Chicken Addiction

July 3, 2017

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I didn’t mean to get hooked. It happened accidentally. I don’t want therapy. I just want to keep making this dish, and to share it with you.

First there was a recipe in Sunset Magazine for Ghanaian Peanut and Spice Lamb Skewers. I didn’t quite love it, although the recipe had looked delicious. But it made a lot of spicy peanut powder, and the leftovers of that sat on my counter for a few days, awaiting inspiration.

And then, to use up that powder and a few other things in my fridge, I made this dish. And although it may have started out to be all about using stuff up, I’ve made it again and again, and have never felt like altering my first recipe in the slightest.

It’s rich and comforting, exotic and familiar, infinitely satisfying. And it does call for one unusual ingredient, which is powdered peanut butter. I found several different sorts of that here, but most had sugar added. However, the one made by Santa Cruz Organic is nothing more than a fine, fine powder of peanuts, peanut flour really.  You could probably substitute peanut butter here, but I haven’t tried. It’s perfect just the way it is, and I hope it will hook you just the way it did me.

Peanut Coconut Summer Chicken

1/2 cup powdered peanut butter
1 T paprika
1 T ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Mix this all together in a small bowl and set aside.

8 bone-in skin-on chicken legs – you can separate the thigh and drumstick or not, as you prefer
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 piece of ginger, about 2″ long, diced or julienned to taste
1 bunch green onions, sliced, white and green parts
1 can coconut milk
2 T neutral oil
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the chicken thoroughly on both sides, salting it as you go. I like to cover the chicken, but not the entire pan, with a crumpled piece of foil to reduce spatters and help it cook more evenly. As pieces are browned remove them and place in a single layer in a  large, oven-proof casserole dish.

When all the chicken is browned remove most of the accumulated fat from the pan, leaving a couple of tablespoons. Toss in the red pepper, ginger, cilantro, and green onions and sauté until wilted. Add the spiced peanut powder to the pan and stir until well combined. Pour in the coconut milk gradually, stirring until you have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper.

Pour this sauce over and around the chicken pieces. Cover the dish loosely with foil and bake at 350° until cooked through, about 25-30 minutes, depending on how well you browned the chicken initially. That’s it. Serves 6-8.

I show it with a tangy, lime-juicy spaghetti squash salad, which I think was an excellent accompaniment. Quick pickled cucumbers would also be nice.