Sunday, April 26, 2009
We are civilized!
There were many times during my stay in France when I felt as if my new friends did not quite believe that Americans know much at all about food, wine and the finer arts of living. I even felt apologetic at times, explaining my American lifestyle. I shocked everyone when I told stories of lunchtime at school. I eat in my classroom Monday through Friday with my 12 seventh grade advisees. At the middle school, we make them stay in to eat for 20 minutes before they can go out to play. We do not have a cafeteria. No 1 1/2 hour lunches with a glass of chilled rosé and adult conversation. As much as I love my advisees, I do miss that. I still smile when I think of the summer of 2007 when I cooked for mon équipe, the men who were remodeling the 5th bedroom at the B&B in Arles. I thought I'd been dropped onto a movie set or into a book entitled How the French Really Live... Conversation ranged from airplanes to music to movies to philosophers to politics to the Tour de France. Then at the end of lunch, everyone retired to a separate sofa or chair for a 20-30 minute nap. Back to work around 3:00 pm, quitting time around 6:30 pm, a drink at the café and then either home for dinner or leftovers in the kitchen with us. Two children on the train I took from Arles to Paris in November didn't believe that I was American because I wasn't fat. They were traveling with their grandmother and we sat together. She was embarrassed that they said that loudly enough for me to hear. I assured her it was quite alright and that we truly aren't all obese.
Since I returned from France in December, I've given eating and food much more thought than I ever did. My son Grant was very happy to have me home and cooking for him again. Pasta and freshly grated Parmesan cheese was one of the first meals waiting for him when he came home from basketball practice. I visited most of the grocery stores in Durham and Chapel Hill to see what they offered in the way of cheeses and meats. I read every label on the bottles of French wines at Wine Authorities to see which ones were from Provence. I even recognized a couple of them. I am sure that most of my friends were ready to strangle me the next time I started a sentence with When I was in France... or In Arles, we... I have experimented with new recipes. I've tried quite of few of Chef Érick's recipes on my own. I have even stopped following recipes as closely as I did before my sabbatical, adding a little of this or a little of that on my own.
Just recently, I have come to the realisation that we are not as barbaric as the French believe. The Durham Farmers' Market is amazing already and it is only the end of April. This past Saturday, there were strawberries, onions, radishes, and several varieties of lettuce already for sale. I bought basil, thyme, sage, tarragon, rosemary, lavender and parsley for my eagerly anticipated back deck herb garden. I bought them from Tim and Helga MacAller who own Four Leaf Farm. Tim taught at Durham Academy one year and I renewed my friendship with them through Pat and Joan Fox. There were cheeses, soaps, buffalo steaks, fresh farm eggs, pottery, handmade baskets, flowers, bread, and pastries for sale at various booths. Our Farmers' Market is downtown in Central Park. I cannot wait to see what each Saturday will bring. I plan to go to the Carrboro market next Saturday as well.
I've been to Dorette Snover's for a wonderful dinner. Pâté with spicy mustard, couscous, cauliflower casserole, grilled salmon and lemon sorbet. We went to dinner Saturday night at Nantucket Grill in Sutton Station here in Durham. We sat outside, listening to live music and spent a couple of hours enjoying the company of Steve's sister, Cindy, her husband, Rick, their son Aaron and his girlfriend Megan. We all had fish in some form, from Cindy's blackened salmon salad to Steve's sea bass to my pasta with scallops, calamari and shrimp.
On Friday afternoon, after school, Yolanda invited me over for what we call Wine & Whine. It is simply an excuse for us to get together and get caught up. Wine a necessity, whining optional. We were in her kitchen, talking while she pulled out St. André cheese, bread and a bottle of Domaine Pinchinat Côtes de Provence rosé. Yolanda is an art teacher and has an incredible eye for color. After she arranged the bread and cheese, I grabbed my camera from my purse (I still never leave home without it!) and took the photo for today's post. How elegant. And just for sitting on her back porch on a late April Friday afternoon.
I still am not a chef. I am not a food or restaurant critic. I have found ways to incorporate food into my life other than simply eating it. I've been to the Durham Nativity School to teach 6th, 7th and 8th grade boys how to make crêpes, Tarte Tatin and real whipped cream. I've shared recipes with some of my 7th graders who already love to cook. I even have an advisee who brings me asparagus from his garden! Merci, André! I've read Julia Child's My Life in France and found a copy of Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home at the Durham Academy Used Book Fair. I helped Dorette with a corporate event and she has asked me to help with two weeks of her cooking school this summer. I've called my sister to ask for her banana pudding recipe. And last, but certainly not least, I have been asked to write a column about local food for the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper. This time for pay! How cool, n'est-ce pas? Life is full of unexpected surprises, opportunities and new friends.
Tomatoes will be in season soon here in North Carolina. The following recipe is found in Recipes from Provence, a compilation of recipes pout together by René Husson and Philippe Galmiche and published by Éditions Fleurines. Madeleine Vedel translated it into English from the original French, Recettes de Provence.
Tarto à la poumo d'amour (in Provençal)
Pie crust (I buy mine at the grocery store-- refrigerated ones you can roll out)
500 gr (1 lb) tomatoes
200 gr (10 oz) strips of Swiss or Gruyere cheese
100 gr (1 cup) grated cheese
1 sprig of thyme
Peel, seed and slice the tomatoes in rounds.
Put the pie crust in a pie pan and spread a nice layer of mustard on the bottom.
Lay the cheese strips on top, then cover with the tomato slices. Salt and pepper.
Sprinkle with the grated cheese and the crumbled thyme.
Drizzle olive oil over all.
Place in a hot oven (about 350 F) for 40 minutes.
Serve warm, as an appetizer or first course, with a glass of chilled rosé.