Archive for the ‘Posts Containing Recipes’ category

And The Livin’ Is Easy

June 26, 2016

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Oh summertime. Those sweet early summer days when it’s hot but not suffocating, when all I want to do it be in the garden and the vineyard. And put things up.

I’ve been having a sweetly old-fashioned weekend, making vin de noix, then raspberry jam from my garden raspberries, then French-style apricot jam with fruit that was a gift from a friend. Americans like their jam set up, firm, jam that behaves itself on a piece of toast. Hence my raspberry version, seeds and all, cooked to 220° to ensure a firm set. The French like their jam runny, oozing off a buttered baguette or spooned over yogurt, with big chunks of fruit, and so my apricot jam macerates overnight, cooks to only 210°, and has mouthfuls of succulent apricot flesh. Chacun à son gout, to each her own, and I’m pretty sure that both are delicious, containing, as they do, noting but fruit and sugar. My friends and family will have to tell me, since I won’t be tasting either of them.

Nor will I drink the vin de noix, since it too contains plenty of sugar. It’s funny, this compulsion I feel, to make things with beautiful summer produce that I’ll never taste. I do it for the pure joy of working with the ingredients, all jewel-like and filled with sunshine, and for the pleasure of giving and serving my creations to others. Weird, huh?

But I’ve also been harvesting kale and chard by the armload, as well as what I fear will be the last of the broccoli, lettuces and arugula for the season, and those I do devour happily. My tomatillo plant is covered with baby fruit, the cucumbers are scrambling up the trellis and flowering like mad, the beans are twining, and the tomatoes are just beginning to flower.

That’s life in the garden, one luscious things appears just as you’re mourning the passing of what came before. If you’re lucky, that’s life on Earth.

 

An Easter Birthday

March 27, 2016

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You know how it can be, the kids are grown, there’s no reason to fill an Easter basket or cook springtime food. No chocolate bunnies hop your way, ho hum, just another day.

But today my classmate Kelly was kind enough to have an Easter birthday, and to tell me that her Mom always used to make her an angel food cake with confetti color dots inside. Yippee, an Easter project! I wasn’t too sure whether the color would run all over the cake or stay in nice dots like it used to do in those long-ago funfetti cake mixes, but lo and behold, it worked just as it should. I can’t show you the inside of the cake, because between the squishy nature of angel food, and the billowy soft frosting, the cut slices were a mess. but you can make it for yourself, and you’ll have a fun and fluffy cake to serve when whimsy is called for. I used this angel food recipe, omitting the chocolate and adding 1/4 cup of colored sprinkles instead. Then I used this recipe for fluffy pink frosting, a recipe unlike any I’ve used before. It remained very soft and never set up, although it looked like a sort of unicorns-and-rainbows confection on the cake so that didn’t matter.

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It wasn’t a total sugar-fest, though. Guests brought a beautiful fruit salad and fragrant raspberry sour cream muffins, which, derelict hostess that I am, I neglected to photograph. I made an egg casserole with asparagus, artichoke hearts, cheeses, and ham, that was pretty darn good and used up the 10 extra egg yolks left behind by the angels. But the star of that plate, to me, was the salad.

A composition of bitter leaves, endive, radicchio, and arugula, it had a beguiling preserved Meyer lemon and crème fraîche dressing that will definitely become a staple in my kitchen, and went exquisitely with a rosé of pinot gris made by one of the guests. The salad recipe is here,  and although I always make preserved Meyer lemons when they’re in season, if you don’t have homemade, you can buy them in a jar. To add to the merriment, we had three different wines made by guests, the rosé, a chardonnay, and a cabernet sauvignon, a definite perk of living a life surrounded by winemakers.  I look forward to the day when every wine on the table is made by one of us, and I thank Kelly for requesting such a delightfully eccentric birthday cake. It’s one of the most fun treats I’ve baked in quite a while, and I recommend it to you as a sure-fire cheerer-upper.

Marshmallow Magic

July 5, 2015

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Do we ever outgrow s’mores? I can’t eat them, but even I can’t imagine camping without them. So for this year’s camping trip, I decided to really up the ante in the s’mores department. I bought Annie’s Organic graham crackers, Lindt chocolates in milk, dark, and chili. And then I made the marshmallows.

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Now I’ve made marshmallows before and wasn’t very impressed with them. Mostly it was just the wow factor that saved them, and not any real flavor difference from Jet-Puff. But then I made this epiphany of a recipe, and the confection turned marshmallow-rejecters into dévotés, and the s’more-indifferent into ravening, s’more-scrounging beasts.

This marshmallow toasts, it melts, it smooshes, like a marshmallow should. The real big deal is that it also tastes wonderful, addictively so, judging by the fact that after the camping trip Eric and Jessica insisted that I show them how to make marshmallows, and were likewise adamant about the fact that we should have more s’mores around the chiminea as we watched our neighbors’4th of July fireworks.

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And the secret? In the most improbable way, they’re made with Lillet. Quite a bit of Lillet, whose haunting flavor I love. The recipe for Lillet Marshmallows is here, and I didn’t change a single thing about it. The recipe works perfectly if you follow the instructions exactly. The marshmallows hold their shape, cut nicely, and of course, make the best s’mores anyone’s ever tasted. There’s lots of summer left, don’t miss your chance to bedazzle your friends and family with this treat.

Noël Encore Une Fois

December 26, 2014

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I was wondering how I’d survive a Christmas without Shel, especially in Uzès, where we spent so many Christmases together. Although, I have to admit, we never had sheep for Christmas. Eric and Jessica came to join me here for the holidays, and a couple of days before Christmas Jess looked out the kitchen window, where we normally see this,

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and saw a procession of animals making their way up the street. After a while we heard singing, and went down to the Place aux Herbes, which is the center of town. I didn’t have the wit to take my camera, but Eric did, and there he captured these images

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of what turned out to be a sort of mini-Pastorale, with scenes all around the Place, and singing in Provençale. The best part, for us, was the way the sheep and goats stood up on two feet to eat absolutely all of the holiday greenery that had been wrapped around the huge plane trees that shade the Place in summer. That, and the camels, because really, you never see camels around here.

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That helped us get in the holiday spirit, and we made a little attempt at decorating the new house, a house Shel never lived in (and a good thing too, because it’s spread over four floors, and the number of stairs is pant-inducing and thigh-numbing). We also wrapped a few presents, because, as Jessica said, “It’s nice looking at presents.”

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Christmas Eve is when the French celebrate Christmas, so we made an effort too, eating oysters like everyone else in France on that night. Alas, our conclusion, since we raise our own, is that our oysters are far better, pulled out of the water and consumed within the hour, than the ones I bought here. Spoiled, we are, and we freely admit it.

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We’re also being spoiled this year by Cannelle, a little  kitten-cat who belongs to our friend Maryse. She’s gone up north to spend the holiday with her parents, and we’re cat-sitting, to our great joy, because we’re all missing our own cats, and a loaner cat is oh so much better than no cat at all.

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And then it was Christmas day, and we set a table for seven, including four old friends with whom we’ve spent many a holiday here. In the rush of things like making a complicated dinner in a totally unfamiliar kitchen I didn’t take any pictures except this one

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of cabbage leaves stuffed with a traditional French farce.  But there was an entrée of foie gras, mini-ballotine de pintade, and mâche, with a very nice Monbazillac, then a plate of coquelet au four froid, whose recipe you can find here, with sides of the little stuffed cabbage leaves, Romanesco broccoli with beure noisette, a purée of celery root, a little écrasée of Jerusalem artichokes lightly spiced with ras el hanout, carrots tossed with marmalade made by Chef Nathalie from the oranges at l’Institut de Français, and a sauté of morels and trompettes de la mort in Monbazillac and butter. Followling a trou Gascon  of Armagnac, we had a beautifully runny Mont d’Or cheese, with a vintage Port, and a Dutch apple pie made by Katherine, without which is just wouldn’t be Christmas in Uzès. I think that’s my record, to put six different vegetable preparations on one plate (see what you missed, Xavier, by not joining us?).

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And now, looking out the office window, I see Uzès returned to its normal post-holiday beauty. Tomorrow Eric and Jessica will leave for ten days, and I’ll begin to learn what my single life in Uzès will be like. Like all the other firsts since Shel died, I both dread it, and look forward to making it through. See you on the other side.

Food For Thought

September 14, 2014

DSC_9056Today I haven’t seen, nor spoken to, another person. Toby and I have had a couple of heartfelt conversations, but although talking to a cat can be sweet and comforting, it’s not a very intellectual experience. So I’ve had a lot of time to think.

The day was hot and sunny, with just the slightest dash of autumn in the air. The water has been shushing and lapping all day, as it does, but with a poignant little song that says “you won’t be sitting out on that deck too much longer, missy, so you’d better drink it all in now.”

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There are still bees in the garden, stocking up for the coming winter, and the dahlias are out in full glory. It was a perfect day for a summer-preserving project, and here’s one of my favorite things to put up as the sun begins to go down earlier and earlier. I can’t eat them, of course, but I still love to make them, and they’ll make lovely holiday gifts. Make them right now, while the Italian prune plums are still in the market. Make them, but don’t eat them, yet. The longer these plums soak in their sweet brandy syrup the headier and more fragrant they’ll become.

This is a recipe that someone gave me many years ago, and they’ve sustained me many a time through the fading of the summer, the contemplation of the dark days to come. Because no matter how cold, wet, light-starved, or miserable you might be in the coming months, these plums will always bring you back to the warm, juice-dripping days of summer, whether or not you have someone with whom to share them.

Madison Valley Brandied Plums

3 lbs Italian prune plums
1 2″ long cinnamon stick
2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups brandy

Boil a pot of water as deep as the shoulder of your canning jar. This amount will make about a 2 quart jar full, and it’s easier to make it all in one large jar, although I sometimes, like today, make some in smaller jars (just beware of burning yourself with smaller jars!).

Wash the plums, remove their stems, and with a needle, pierce each one 6-7 times around the stem end. Pack them in to the jar, adding some plums cut in half to fill in the empty spaces. Tuck the cinnamon stick in there somewhere as you fill the jar.

In a medium pan bring the sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let this syrup cool for 10 minutes, then add the brandy. (And don’t go using expensive cognac here, just a reasonably-priced brandy will do just fine). Immediately pour this syrup into the jar, covering the plums.

Partially cover the jar and place it in the boiling water. Let it cook for 6-7 minutes, until you see the syrup at the top of the jar bubbling. Very carefully remove the jar from the water (here’s where burning yourself with those small jars comes in), tighten the lid, and set it to cool. When cool, store in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks and up to several months before serving. In addition to the delight of eating these plums all by themselves, the syrup is delicious over ice cream, yogurt, or pound cake, and you could probably make a dynamite cocktail with it too.

Thar She Blows

July 6, 2014

DSC_8607We’ve had a beautiful 4th of July weekend, our first without Shel. We kind of alternated between saying things like “Oh, Shel would have loved to see our new kayaks and see how Eric modified the boathouse to give them a snug home that I can get them in and out of” and “You know, if Shel were here, we’d never be eating lunch outside in the rain under the patio umbrella like the demented Northwesterners we are.”

DSC_8557-001The weekend started off with this procession of feathered friends, the baby goslings now almost indistinguishable from their parents, even though they’re just a few months old.

DSC_8589Then, early in the morning of the 4th, before Eric and Jessica and Jordan arrived, I thought I heard cries for help from out on the water. I went and looked, and saw a sailboat with several adults aboard, not going anywhere but not sinking, so I went back to my holiday baking. But then I heard it again, distinct cries of “Help! Help!” I went out with the binoculars and realized that the sailboat didn’t have any wind, and they also seemed unsure about how to set the sails, and their motor must have crapped out. Several motor boats passed them by, perhaps not hearing their calls, and then another sailboat, under motor, stopped to help them, and ended up towing them out of sight. First time I’ve seen something like that happen, and it really made me think about what I would have needed to do, besides call the Coast Guard, if they’d been in real trouble and no one else were around.

DSC_8598Once they were safely under tow I went back to my baking, and that baking resulted in this, an Internet baking meme if ever there was one. Possibly you yourself baked this patriotic cake too, whose recipe is here . I halved the recipe so that I could make it in a 9×13″ pan, since the recipe as written makes an enormous cake. Also I added a little almond extract to the batter, and the cake was pronounced to be delicious by those that devoured it.

But the most amazing thing that happened on the 4th occurred when I was too far from my camera to show it to you – the passage of two small gray whales right in front of the house. Jordan and I were on the beach watching Eric and Jessica give the new kayaks their maiden voyage, when WHOOSH, the spouts of two passing whales blew right in front of us. We were totally spellbound, and followed them down the beach for a while, until they swam out of sight. I’d heard that very occasionally whales come through here, but had never seen a single one. I’m so sorry that Shel didn’t get to see this – he would have been beside himself with joy, just as we were.

DSC_8631And then today, right after everyone had left, I was once again realizing that I live in the midst of incredible beauty, but I live alone with it. And I have to say that alone is probably my least favorite word in the English language right now. But suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of a marching band, right outside my door. Astounded, I ran to look, and there, on the deck of a passing ferry, was in fact a band, playing a New Orleans kind of tune for what I assume were delighted passengers.

Thirteen weeks now since Shel died, the longest three months of my life. Time bends in the most peculiar way all around me, sometimes it seems that he was here with me just a minute ago, sometimes like he’s been gone for years. But right here and now there were whales, and a brass band, blowing me back into the present, which was a very great and much needed gift.

Slow Walnut Wine

June 27, 2014

DSC_8552There’s a verb in French, patienter, that we don’t really have in English. It means to wait patiently, and you’re asked to do it often, like when you’re on hold on the phone with the notorious French bureaucracy, for example. The ATM will even tell you veuillez patienter, please wait patiently, as you’re waiting for your Euros to be dispensed. The French know how to wait.

And if you want to make this beautiful French walnut wine, called vin de noix, you’ll need to be patient too – actually, in this case what you need to do it hurry up and wait. Because you have to go pick the walnuts right now, meaning, in the next few days. The walnuts must be soft, easily pierced through with a needle, and in France the optimum day to do this is the day of St. Jean, which is June 24th. So I was already a couple of days late when I picked these this morning, but hey, the climate’s cooler here, and the walnuts are probably a little behind their French cousins. So, if you have access to a walnut tree, rush out now and gather 15 of  the small green nuts.

Making the wine is child’s play, and takes a matter of minutes. It’s waiting for the wine to be ready to drink that takes patience. First you let all the ingredients rest quietly together for about 40 days. Not so hard, right? But then you filter the wine and let it rest for another….year. And if you can wait two years, it will be that much better. So run right out and get the nuts, and then, veuillez patienter. It’s a lesson in French culture, both the waiting for and the drinking of, vin de noix, that’s completely typical and utterly charming. And yes, this recipe makes quite a lot, but you won’t be sorry you have it, and neither will all the friends you’ll delight with your bottled patience.

Abra’s Vin de Noix

15 green walnuts
3 large walnut leaves
5 bottles red wine (nothing expensive, but something good to drink)
1 bottle inexpensive brandy
3 star anise
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 pound of sugar

Cut the walnuts in half, or in quarters if they’re large. If they’re hard to cut, they’re already too old and the wine will be very bitter. Place the walnuts in a very large jar, or divide them among 3 half-gallon canning jars. Add the rest of the ingredients to the jar(s), cover, and place in a cool corner of your kitchen. Now wait for 40 days and 40 nights. The wine will darken in color, and if you want it even darker you can put it outside for a few hours on a sunny day or two and let it get a little sun. When the 40 days have passed, filter out all the solids and place the wine back into the jars, or into wine bottles if you like.

I know that you are going to want to taste it at this point, and if you do, it will be horrible. Horrible, I say. Undrinkable. Don’t despair, don’t throw it out, veuillez patienter. Set it aside in a cool, dark place and forget all about it for a year or two. When you taste it after that long wait, you’ll be overcome by deliciousness. This is a wine to drink with a simple, unfrosted cake, or to drink all by itself instead of dessert. I promise you that your patience will be richly rewarded.