Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday reflections and Millefeuille

I sit here, monitoring after school study hall, gazing out the window watching the JV softball team practice and the dogwood tree blooms beginning to open. It rained this morning, typical since this afternoon my son's varsity baseball team has a game. Steve, my soon-to-be un-ex husband called to tell me that he had ripped the navy blue pants I admired on him this morning. He was dragging the baseball field when it happened. I imagine his tennis shoes will need to be washed again tonight, along with Grant's muddy baseball pants. Jake's checking account was recently overdrawn again so we dealt with that drama. I did my part by going on-line and setting up his account so that he can track his expenses instead of relying on the ATM to give him his inaccurate balance. (Strange when the 50 year old mom is the computer savvy one instead of the 21 year old college student, n'est-ce pas?) Steve did his part by going to the bank and asking them to please remove part of the exorbitant fees (they did so, I am happy to report). We both talked to Jake, together and separately. The one thing we were always able to do well together was parent our children, even when the marriage wasn't on track.
Yes, I am back smack in the middle of "real life." Do I long for the days in Arles when all I had to worry about was getting the towels and sheets dry? Ah, oui. But am I sad to be back in the role of wife, mom and middle school French teacher? Absolument non! I feel like me here. I didn't always feel like me in Arles. I wasn't speaking my native language. Expressing one's feelings in another language is not easy. I felt as if all my new friends only knew half of me. They didn't even know that I could tell jokes and even remember the punchline occasionally.
For Christmas, Martha gave me a book hot off the press named I'll Never Be French (no matter how hard I try) by Mark Greenside. I loved this book written by an American who goes to spend a summer in Bretagne and falls in love with it. Who wouldn't fall in love with Bretagne or any other region of France, for that matter, after spending time there? But I identify with the title and I have come to terms, finally, with the fact that that's okay. I could have stayed in Arles. Physically, that it. Emotionally, never. I belong here and am happy here.
I just finished another book whose title could be my autobiography. A Pig in Provence by Georgeann Brennan. I admit to being green with envy most of the way through the book. She and her husband bought a home in Provence (very rustic- no electricity or plumbing for a while) and she made great French friends and learned to cook wonderful Provence specialities. She runs a cooking school and hosts writing workshops during the year. When I win the lottery... As I read it, though, I realized just how lucky I am that I can read it and think to myself-- "Pardon, madame, but we made brandade de morue differently!"
Now, I have begun Julia Child's My Life in France. What a treat to read a couple of chapters before falling asleep every night. Another American who moved to France and fell in love with the people, the food and the country.
I am not alone. I am much changed by my wonderful six months in France in 2008. I will never be the same. Just as the three authors mentioned above were changed by their experiences. They were all able to buy homes there, though. There's the difference. Oui, when I win the lottery...
The Durham Farmer's Market opened this past Saturday. I was thrilled to see that it has grown since my last visit a couple of years ago. For sale was goat cheese, little pots of herbs and garden plantings (I have grand plans to grow my own herbs on my back deck to use in my cooking experiments this summer), lamb, soaps, honey, homemade bread (we were too late for that, unfortunately) and other wonderful goodies. I can't wait until the vegetables come in!
In looking back through the blog last week, I realized that I had not posted the recipe for my 50th birthday cake, the beautiful and delicious Millefeuille that Chef Érick made for me. So, I will make up for it now and post the recipe. The photo does it justice!
Bon appétit!

Millefeuille Cake

This is a dessert that can be made very simply, or livened up with fresh raspberries, blackberries, blueberries…. Or chocolate shavings.

Ingredients for 8-10 portions

3 sheets of flaky pastry (this will be 2 boxes of Pepperidge Farm flaky pastry dough found in the freezer section of the grocery store or you can make your own)

For the cream:

1/2 liter whole milk (one pint)
4-5 egg yolks (depending on the size of your eggs)
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
optional flavoring: vanilla bean, nutmeg., sweet orange essence, lemon rind/zest

Plus 1/2 pint whipping cream whipped till stiff (this is optional- you can use just the cream, if you wish)

Heat the milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. While the milk heats, mix the egg yolks, sugar and flour in a mixer until light yellow. When the milk is hot, pour it slowly into the egg mixture whisking all the while. Then pour the mixture back into the sauce pan and whisk until it starts to bubble and thicken. The addition of flour will prevent the eggs from curdling too quickly.

When thickened, remove from the flame, put the sauce pan and place in the refrigerator to chill. (Lining the pan with plastic wrap makes it easier to remove and easier clean-up.)

Lay your flaky pastry sheets* out on baking pans, poke holes throughout to prevent them from puffing in the oven and bake at 400F / 200C till golden brown. (15-25 minutes). Remove the sheets from the oven and let cool.

Take the pastry cream from the refrigerator and fold in the chilled whipping cream, if you decide to use it. Place one pastry sheet on your cake plate, spread a layer of cream, then lay the next sheet, spread a layer of cream, then the final sheet. You can place raspberries, strawberries or blueberries on the cream, if you wish, before adding the next layer of pastry. You can finish off the millefeuille with powdered sugar or a glaze of powdered sugar and lemon juice and/or Grand Marnier, or sprinkle fresh berries, or melted chocolate. Chill until ready to serve.

*It is difficult to neatly cut millefeuille once assembled, you might want to cut the sheets ahead of time and make individual size millefeuille. The dessert is best when the pastry is quite fresh and crunchy, and just assembled. But, if you make it ahead of time, the pastry will wilt just a bit from the humidity of the cream filling to make it easier to cut. Another option is to put it in the freezer for a couple hours before serving, and then cut it with a slightly warmed knife


Madeleine Vedel said...

Love that mille feuille recipe -- t'is a hit, non? and of course I'd be delighted if you put a link to my blog from yours! and vice versa should you wish. And, would it be appropriate to friend on facebook? I'm using it more as a prof. tool these days, but always try to put links to interesting things/people. and when I do new posts. You'd like David Lebovitz as well I think. He's truly a hoot. Take care!

AnnaMaria said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog about France and Italy.
I have two siblings that live in both countries.
My older brother in Italy and my sister near Uzed .
I spent many summers at my cousin house in Avignon..Provence is truly my favourites place to visit when I go back to france.
Paris is beautiful but Provence is very dear to me.
Keep up the good work.
Ciao, AnnaMaria