Monday, June 29, 2009

Happy as a...

...pig in mud!
Did you finish that saying correctly? If so, good for you. If not, you need an extended visit to North Carolina!
This is a recent photo taken of one of the pigs at Fickle Creek Farm where I am staying while assisting Chef Dorette Snover with her Teen Chefs Carolina On My Plate cooking week. But that could easily be a photo of moi! I am at "cooking camp" and having a blast! I am learning so much about the area I have lived in for 29 years. And I am so proud of the progress that has been made locally towards growing and eating the best food possible.
We began Week 2 yesterday and have already exhausted the 5 teen chefs with us this week. We have Jeremy, Zach, Aaron, Ryan and Shannon this week. Last week, we had Katie, Samantha, Rocky, Shelia, Anna and Ian.
I have so much to write about but very little time at the moment. I have taken pages and pages of notes and promise an update as soon as the week is over and life slows down. And even recipes from Executive Chef Colin Bedford at the Fearrington Inn and Umstead Hotel pastry chef Daniel Benjamin. As it is, though, I am up past curfew... Shhhh- don't tell Chef Dorette. She might not let me have dessert tomorrow.
Bon appétit, ya'll!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

France from afar

C'est moi à Châteauneuf-du-Pape...
looking out at the countryside and the Rhône River in the distance from inside what is left of the Pope's summer home

For the first time in four years, it is summer vacation and I am not going to France. No Arles 6 reunion planned (Betty is plotting a Loire Valley adventure for 2010), no work as l'assistante américaine (does the flower guy at the market miss my accent délicieux, I wonder?), no student groups. Dorette and I had hoped to take a couple of young ladies to Paris and Arles for a cooking adventure this summer, but that will probably have to wait until next summer. My passport is safely tucked away and will have a cooling off period until next March when I take my next group of 8th graders.
This week, I have been busy "French-ifying" our home. The Nebraska football helmet that was sitting on a shelf has been replaced by three of my Eiffel Towers. The Duke University Basketball 1991 Championship poster has been relegated to the computer room, replaced by a large framed poster of Henri Matisse's cut-out Le Coeur from his Jazz series. I bought the poster in 1987 when I visited the Musée Matisse in Nice. There's more cheese in our frigo than leftover pizza and Chinese take-out- brie, two kinds of chèvre, St. André, fresh mozzarella and parmesan. Our youngest son has said that he is likely to break a tooth on the coarse sea salt I am force-feeding him (although I have noticed him sprinkling it on his pasta when he thinks I'm not watching). There's almost always a bottle of rosé in the frigo, too. I've framed and arranged five watercolors by an artist I met in Arles last December (okay, Steve did the arranging, measuring and nailing). Chef Érick's watercolor I've titled Vincent à table goes up next. He gave me a sketch book before I left and that work was still in it. I think I asked him if I could have it... There is a blue and yellow olive oil can from Nicolas Alziari of Nice on the counter right next to a bottle and a small can from Moulin du Mas des Barres olive oil producers in Les Baux de Provence near Arles. I could go on and on, but I think I've painted a fairly accurate picture of what I'm doing here. And I am not very good at the decorating thing, to tell the truth.
Even if I am not going to France this summer, I can begin planning the 2010 trips. The 8th grade one comes first since I will need to give information to my students and their parents in August. Perhaps cooking will be the focus. Dorette has Paris connections. Arles and Chef Érick will welcome my students once again, I am sure. I will begin researching the Arles 6 reunion trip. My handsome research assistant, Steve, wants to go to Normandy and see the D-Day beaches one of these days. I've already planted the notion in my friend Ghislaine's tête about the possibility of exchanging houses for a couple of weeks in the summer. Her home in Montépilloy, north of Paris very near Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, is in a great location.
So how do I keep my French tuned up and satisfy my France obsession while I am here in the États-Unis? Back in the olden days, before computers, the internet and global cell phones, I relied on books. I worked on my grammar and vocabulary and read novels. I wrote letters to Ghislaine in French. Now Ghislaine and I correspond mostly by email (although I still love handwritten letters) since she has finally entered the 21st century with her own laptop and internet at home. I still read every novel set in France or up-to-date book about France I can get my hands on. I get movies from Netflix (we just watched Il y a longtemps que je t'aime /I've loved you so long), see most of the French films that come to the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham or the Chelsea in Chapel Hill, and once in a while catch one on TV (Jules et Jim by Truffaut was recently on TMC).
Now, however, it is welcome to the wonderful world of technology. I was recently introduced to podcasts and social networking sites in French. The computer guru at school bought a subscription to Yabla, a website with great French topics and lesson plans for teachers to use. I plan to add it to my 8th grade French Moodle course. There is always YouTube and its many variations. Listening to French now is much easier. Anytime I want to check out Yannick Noah I can go to his official website. I can chat on-line with Ghislaine and Chef Érick whenever we are on-line at the same time despite the six-hour time difference. I recently attended a workshop at NCSU that discussed the positive effects of on-line chatting in a foreign language. Their research has shown that it is the second best thing to speaking in the target language. My guess would be that is because you have to think pretty quickly and there is immediate feedback. Several of my students have started chatting with their penpals in Senlis. This makes me very proud.
But all of the technology in the world can't reproduce the actual sights and smells of France for me. I want to smell the lavender on a hot, dry afternoon and hear the summer music of the cicadas or cigales as they sing. I want to pick a warm, ripe, juicy fig right off the tree, break it open and eat it, letting the juice run through my fingers. I want to sit in Place Voltaire, have a glass of rosé and write postcards home. I want to hear the lovely sound of French being spoken all around me, allowing me to tune in and out, understanding all of what I choose to focus in on, but letting the language flow over me. I want to feel the mistral as it blows in quickly across the Rhône Valley. I want to pass a field of sunflowers, stop the car and jump the ditch to stand among them as they turn their heads to catch the rays of Provence sunshine. I want to awaken in the morning, throw open the shutters and look out the window to see the blue sky above without a cloud in sight. Or to find rare summer clouds and worry if the laundry will dry easily or not.
Hélas, c'est pas possible cet été-- not this summer. But if I close my eyes, it does all come back to me. That's how powerful my memories are. I can revel in them for a few minutes and then come back to my real life. A very good real life. Yes, I am a lucky woman. I have the best of two worlds.

Today I share a list of some of my favorite books. We'll start with books about food and wine, of course! More to follow. I always welcome suggestions.

Teresa's Reads

Appetite for Life Noel R. Fitch: bio of Julia Child
The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry Kathleen Flinn: author goes to Cordon Bleu in Paris
On Rue Tatin Susan H. Loomis: author buys house in Normandy; runs a cooking school
A Good Year Peter Mayle: Brit inherits uncle's vineyard
Acquired Tastes Peter Mayle: man sets off to find luxuries around the world
French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork & Corkscrew Peter Mayle: eating and drinking in France
Provence A-Z Peter Mayle: handbook for understanding south of France
Chocolat Joanne Harris: woman opens a chocolate shop during Lent in a very Catholic village
Julie and Julia Julie Powell: author cooks her way through Julia Child cookbook
French Dirt Richard Goodman: author and his garden in the south of France
A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway: his memoir of Paris in 1920's
The Widow Clicquot Tilar J. Mazzeo: story of the woman behind Veuve Clicquot champagne
My Life in France Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme: autobio by Child and her nephew
French Women Don’t Get Fat Mireille Guiliano: French woman’s guide to eating with recipes
Bistro Chicken Mary Ellen Evans: recipes with a French flair
My French Kitchen Joanne Harris & Fran Warde: cookbook by author of Chocolat
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Julia Child: her first cookbook
A Pig in Provence Georgeanne Brennan: good food, simple pleasures in Provence

Monday, June 15, 2009

"I beg your pardon...

(Celebrating my BFF's birthday in late May at The Wine Authorities. That's why she got to hold the gnome- it was all about her!)

I never promised you a rose garden."

Well, at least that's what Lynn Anderson sang back in 1970. (Ah oui, in Spruce Pine my dad listened to that one quite a lot... or maybe it was my mom who chose that particular song!)
For today's research, I googled idioms with rose (once again, what on earth would I do without the internet and googling). Here are the results thanks to

  • a bed of roses
  • come out smelling like a rose
  • come up smelling like a rose
  • a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet
  • smell like a rose
  • there's no rose without a thorn
  • not all moonlight and roses
  • be no bed of roses
  • everything's coming up roses
  • put the roses in someone's cheeks
  • rose-coloured glasses
  • rose-tinted glasses
  • red as a rose
One of my top 10 favorite songs of all time is Louis Armstrong's rendition of "La Vie en Rose." If you have never heard it, go straight to iTunes and give it a listen.
And pink just happens to be my favorite color. I hate to shop, but whenever I am wandering around Target wasting time, pink sweaters or t-shirts automatically grab my attention. (My standard uniform tends to be black and white, therefore a pink scarf is the perfect accent! That's my fashion tip for the decade.)
Here's what I got when I googled pink:

  • in the pink
  • seeing pink elephants
  • tickled pink
  • a pink slip
  • pink collar job
English can be a very colorful language. So what's the point of all the rose/pink talk this morning? Lynn Anderson may not have promised a rose garden, but I found a rosé garden recently at the Wine Authorities. Notice the accent, the wonderful little mark over the e in rosé. Accent marks drive my students crazy. The word is misspelled without them and, oui, bien sûr, I take off points when they are missing or the poor kid has chosen the wrong one. Personally, I think they look cool. That particular one, accent aigu, placed on a final e causes it to be pronounced. Therefore the correct pronunciation is ro-zay.
Rosé wine seems to have picked up a bad reputation in the États-Unis through no fault of its own. If you stand in the wine aisle in a typical supermarché here and check out the bottles, you do see something known as white zinfandel. Now, I am no expert, but is there such a thing? The zinfandel grape is red. I became fairly well-acquainted with this grape on a trip to California. I went out to Folsom for computer training a few summers back. (I even got to visit the prison made famous by Johnny Cash's song. Merci, Verle, you sure know how to show a girl a good time!) I finished my work a little early and had a day to play so I decided to go to Lodi to visit wineries. Lodi is famous for its zinfandel grapes and wine. There are about 70 wineries in the area. I went first to the visitor's center where I found a map of local wineries. The first one I went to was Jewel. The young woman working there was incredibly helpful, marking a map for me of 5 or 6 wineries I should visit given my limited amount of time. I was just beginning to learn about wine at that point. I was hoping to be hired part time at Chatham Hill Winery, near RDU airport. I remember Jewel and Woodbridge, Robert Mondavi's large scale operation. Tasting room personnel tend to be very friendly folks and I was soaking up all I could about wine and winemaking. I became a fan of zinfandel. Marek Wojciechowski, at Chatham Hill, makes a great zinfandel with grapes from Lodi (I even hear that Marek is releasing a Reserve Zinfandel soon... more research needed... They did hire me, by the way, and I worked for Marek and Jill off and on for a couple of years-- maybe I'll get back behind the tasting bar one of these days!). But white zinfandel? Please. Not the same as the lovely dry rosé I fell in love with in Provence.
The New York Times has been full of stories lately about a movement in the European Union to allow winemakers to blend red and white wines to make rosé, a process I, the wannabe high priestess of rosé, think is blasphemous. The last I read, this idea was voted down, thank goodness.
Rosé is made from red, typically grenache, syrah and carignan, grapes that grow well in the hot, dry conditions found in Provence, along the southern Rhône River. The red grapes are crushed and the juice is briefly (2-3 days) left in contact with the skins, giving the white juice (all grape juice is white, whether the grapes are red or white) its pink color. Most of the rosés that I have tasted come from southern France since I spent 8 months living there. I visited several wineries in the area with Chef Érick and clients. The rosés of Domaine d'Eole and Jean-Paul Cabanis were staples of our summer picnics. I have also tried lovely rosés from the Loire Valley, southwest France and Austria. Some areas that come to mind are Tavel, Bandol, Bergerac, Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas and Fronton. When in Champagne, I discovered that Veuve Clicquot makes a beautiful rosé champagne (around $70 a bottle-- a bit pricey for me). I later read that back in the day a lot of champagne was made from the pinot noir grape and was rosé colored (I wonder if there is any of the Austrian Michlits Pinot Noir Frizzante Rosé left at Wine Authorities??).
I've also had really good rosé made from 100% cinsault grapes. We found it in Pic St. Loup, a marvelous region for wine in southern France.
In the kitchen in Arles one day, I noticed a fairly large plastic container marked gris sitting on the counter. I had no idea what the liquid was. Gray what, I wondered? I watched Chef Érick pouring it into an empty wine bottle and started to catch on. We drank it with our lunch. Come to find out, vin gris is a very light rosé wine (really not pink to tell the truth)- very inexpensive and sold at the market. You can bring your own plastic container and have it filled up or the merchant will lend you one. Is France a great country or what?
Rosé is the perfect wine for warm weather. Chilled, served with a mild goat cheese (at the DFM on Saturday, I bought a spread made from goat cheese, figs and honey from Elodie Farms), perhaps warm pissaladière right out of the oven (recipe in July 20, 2008 post), sitting on the deck, watching the sunset and decompressing from the day. A chicken salad made with roasted chicken, grapes and almonds would pair well (the French say they marry well- se marier bien) with rosé... think light, picnic fare and the summertime possibilities are endless and so délicieux.
At this very moment, there is a bottle of 2008 Château de Ségries Tavel rosé chilling in my frigo. It is from a region between Languedoc and Provence in southern France. It is 50% grenache, 30% cinsault, 15% clairette and 5% syrah. I am making grilled mozzarella sandwiches (recipe below) to accompany it.
So come on, ya'll, if you've never tried a glass of dry rosé, what on earth are you waiting for? Seth and Craig at Wine Authorities donate a portion of the proceeds from each bottle of rosé sold to the Triangle Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research (over $1600 so far).
Everyone knows what we girls think of the color pink, but what could be more appealing than a confident man sipping a chilled glass of rosé on a warm evening? In Arles or in Durham...

Mozzarella Grilled Cheese
(Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence of The Food Network)

Serves: 2 sandwiches
4 slices thick-cut sourdough bread
1 ball (1 pound) fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 plum tomatoes, cut into thick slices
1 cup fresh basil pesto, recipe follows
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil

Basil pesto:
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano
2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

To make pesto:
Toast pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Combine pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still rough-textured.

To make sandwiches:
If you have a panini press, turn it on to warm up; otherwise, set a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Assemble sandwich by smearing insides of bread slices with pesto. Arrange a layer of sliced tomato and season with a few turns of fresh pepper. Layer the mozzarella slices over the top and then place another piece of bread on top to make the sandwich. Drizzle olive oil over skillet's surface and place sandwiches on the hot skillet or panini press. If using a skillet, place another heavy skillet over the top to form a "press". Turn after 2 to 3 minutes and replace weight. The sandwich is ready when golden brown and mozzarella has melted around the edges.

Copyright 2009 Television Food Network G.P., All Rights Reserved

Bon appétit et à votre santé!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lavender Fields Forever

I know what lavender is, really I do, although recently I accidentally told someone that rosemary was lavender. The woman who corrected me is probably wondering if I learned anything at all during my 6 month stay in Provence. I was distracted that morning and just not thinking. Nothing really out of the ordinary! They both smell good, though, that's for sure. I have both growing in pots on my deck. My herbs are doing well and have already furnished enough basil for a batch of homemade pesto. I've used some of the French tarragon in Chef Erick's recipe for tuna-chickpea-rice salad. I've dried some oregano and rosemary. I plan to add the rosemary to a loaf of homemade bread soon and the oregano will go into tomato sauce to top pasta this week. I've cut some stems off of one of my lavender plants and hung them to dry. I often sit out on the deck in the evenings next to the lavender and rub the leaves between my fingers so that I can inhale the scent. My heaven will be filled with lavender that blooms year round.
My first visit to a lavender field in Provence was in July 2006 with the Arles 6. Chef Érick overheard us talking about our desire to see it in bloom and before we knew it one day we were on our way, picnic basket in the back of the van. (I then began to suspect that he understands more English than he lets on...) We visited the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, near Gordes and spent several hours wandering around the church, the lavender fields, visiting the gift shop and eating our lunch, spread out on a blanket in the shade on a hill overlooking the grounds. I have been back several times since that first visit, in my role as the assistante. I have never lost the feeling of awe I feel there, though, looking at God's creation.
While working last summer in Arles, an email came in from a woman in California who wanted to come to Provence for her engagement photos. She wanted to come in October and have the photos taken in lavender fields. I emailed her back to let her know that the lavender would be harvested by then since it is cut in early August. She still didn't quite get it, asking me if September would work. I gave up.
Not long ago, a friend of mine told me about a nearby lavender farm she had discovered at the Hillsborough Farmers' Market. She gave me a brochure for Sunshine Lavender Farms. I was a bit skeptical so I decided to go on-line and check out their website one night. The website is beautifully done and I felt compelled to email Annie, the owner, and tell her so. She immediately emailed me back and sent an invitation to their upcoming harvest celebration.
Steve, my very patient research assistant, and I headed out Sunday, June 14, directions in hand, to find our way to the farm. It was a picture perfect morning, blue skies, a slight breeze, low humidity. We took an old quilt and my camera. We were immediately greeted by Dale, Annie's husband. Their farm is indeed incredibly beautiful. They have chickens, a horse, several dogs, guinea chicks in the barn, and yes, a real lavender field. We joined in a tour that Annie was giving, starting in the field as she pointed out various types of lavender (there are over 500 varieties in the world- she has mainly grosso, provence and hidcote). Annie seems to be a self-taught expert and proceeded to take us to the barn where a friend was working with the dried stalks to tell us how to dry our fleurettes or flowers. She talked about how to plant, harvest and prune our plants (I must now repot mine because I planted them in Miracle-Gro potting soil and that's a no-no- they don't like that). After the tour, I ate Maple View Farms lavender ice cream and lavender shortbread cookies. Steve ate a sandwich supplied by The Picnic Basket. Lavender lemonade was also available. We bought honey from the owners of The Farm Fairy. They even brought some of their bees with them. They were selling breads and other goodies. Some of Sunshine Lavender Farms products were for sale-- soaps, lotions, sachets, lip balm and a cookbook, just to mention a few items. Guests could make lavender crafts- sachets, wreaths, and wands. The farm is not normally open to the public. They sell their products on-line and in a few shops in the area, as well at the farmers' market. This is just Annie's way of educating the public about lavender and sharing her beautiful farm. Early Monday morning will bring the harvest, cutting all the stalks and flowers to ready them for use.
Annie's husband did tell me that she has never been to Provence to visit the lavender fields there. Hmmmm, anyone want to go with me next summer?

Lavender Ice Cream - Glaço à la lavando
(from Chef Érick Vedel)

(Serves 12)
1/2 liter or 1 pint milk
1/2 liter or 1 pint cream
12-15 grams or 1/2 ounce lavender grains
3 egg yolks
120 grams or 2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup lavender honey

Boil the milk and cream, add the lavender grains and let infuse for up to 12 hours. Strain the milk and warm it. Add the sugar and stir well. In a separate bowl, blend the egg yolks, then slowly add the warmed milk and sugar mixture to the egg yolks, whisking as you do so. Pour this mixture into a double-boiler and heat gently, stirring until thickened. Remove from heat, whisk in the lavender honey and chill for 5-6 hours (or overnight). Pour into an ice cream machine. Put in the freezer. Enjoy!

Bon appétit!

From Texas Pete to Pesto

"School's out for the summer!" You know, the old Pink Floyd song... Anyway, yes, it is finally over. Exams graded, grades averaged, progress reports written, 8th graders moved up to high school, seniors moved out and on to college soon and I have three brand-spanking new "Moodle" websites courtesy of a 4-day workshop last week. New ways to bring teachers, however old or young, into the 21st century technology-wise. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks, I guess.
While grading exams a couple of weeks ago, I installed myself on the sofa and turned on the TV, something I rarely do in the middle of the afternoon. But paperwork brings out the best of my procrastination skills (I read that the French do not even have a word for this... need to do further research on that!), so I was flipping through the channels and settled on the Food Network. Quite honestly, I have never watched that channel, but it was the best thing on since I am not into soaps or judge shows. Even Oprah gets on my nerves sometimes.
I listened off and on to a couple of the chefs, practically yelling at a young female "chef" who kept saying that the French terms in the coq au vin recipe she was preparing were just some one's way of making things sound fancy and confusing (heaven help her). I scribbled down a recipe for brownies from another chef and then discovered "Everyday Italian" with Gaida De Laurentis. Now, she is so skinny that she doesn't look as if she really eats her own cooking, but I have to cut her a break because she is, after all, European and even I, with my Southern American genes, didn't gain an ounce while eating my way through Provence and other sections of France for six months. I found myself drawn to the simplicity of her recipes and the fact that she was preparing swordfish sandwiches for her husband and a bunch of guys who were coming over to watch a game.
I live with three guys, four if you count one of the cats. The upstairs of our townhouse is referred to as "the frat house" from time to time because it is where our two sons hang out. Their rooms are up there, as well as the computer room and a small living room with a TV, usually tuned to a game or ESPN Sportscenter. Sports has always been our way of life.
These two athletic young men are not very adventuresome eaters yet, though. Their dad, however, is more willing to try my experiments. So, armed with Gaida's swordfish sandwich recipe, I decided to invite my BFF Martha and her husband Tracy over for dinner the following Saturday evening. We visited the Durham Farmers' Market and found the necessary arugula for the sandwiches plus zucchini and tomatoes for the gratin I planned to also make. We bought just about the last of the strawberries from Lyons Farms. As usual, we wandered around and bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers from the owners of Hurtgen Meadows Farms before leaving. (Tom Hurtgen sent me what I like to call my first fan letter after my May column appeared in the Herald-Sun!). I am still not too sure where to buy seafood in Durham, so we headed to Harris Teeter to see if they had any swordfish and to look for foccacia bread. No swordfish, but after talking to the very nice man behind the counter, we settled on mahi mahi. No foccacia bread either. Instead of driving around searching for it, I decided I would pull out the Cuisinart breadmaker when I got home and put it to use.
I settled upon a caramelized onion tart to start off with and that came out of the oven at about the time Martha and Tracy arrived. We ate that on the deck, pairing it with a bottle of 2008 Zweigelt Rosé (all wines mentioned are from the Wine Authorities). Our deck gets morning sun so by afternoon and early evening it is heavenly out there, even on a very hot day. Very nice place for warm hors-d'oeuvres (wonder what the food channel woman has to say about that French term) and chilled rosé. Tracy quizzed me on my herb garden and we admired my potted tomatoes that will yield fruit soon.
Next, we sat down at the table for tomato and zucchini gratin and mahi mahi sandwiches. There was another bottle of chilled rosé, Venus de Pinchinat 2008 and a bottle of Lange 2006 Pinot Noir I had bought a year or so ago after reading a book about the Lange family in Oregon and their wine operation. We had a lovely long, leisurely dinner. Between us, we have 5 boys and they had all decided to leave us to our "fancy" dinner and go to see a movie. Martha and I actually met 17 years ago because our oldest boys were in pre-kindergarten together at Durham Academy and became best buddies from their first day of school.
Dessert was meringues (because Martha loves them and refused to believe that I could actually make them) with strawberries and freshly whipped cream. The boys came home as we were whipping the cream and we debated the merits of Cool Whip vs "real" whipped cream. Instant gratification vs having to put in a little work for a superior result. Sweeter stuff vs a creamier taste with mom adding less sugar than the Cool Whip chef.
The name of this blog was born a couple of nights later during another food debate at dinner with the boys. We were having pasta. I do believe that I could live on pasta served with pesto and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. That was my first meal upon my arrival in France in June 2007. I flew from RDU to Toronto, overnight to Paris, rode the TGV train to Avignon, was picked up at the station by Chef Érick, visited Madeleine Vedel and the boys at their home near Avignon and then, finally, we drove to Arles. I was starving and exhausted. The pasta and pistou vert were just what I needed and I've never forgotten the taste of it, with a little sea salt sprinkled on top. Anyway, the boys started teasing their dad about putting pesto on his pasta. The legend now goes that they all learned to love Texas Pete during my 4 1/2 year absence from the house. The guys say they put it on most everything dad made in order to give the food some taste. They are a bit worried about him-- making the switch from Texas Pete to pesto. He still uses Texas Pete, though, and it is on our shopping list for the next trip to the grocery store.

This recipe is from Everyday Italian, with my modifications included.

Swordfish Sandwiches

Swordfish steaks (I used mahi mahi)
Focaccia bread (I made a loaf of Italian/French bread with wheat germ in it)
Spread made of mayonnaise with crushed, chopped garlic and lemon juice
Herbes de provence
Olive oil

Heat olive oil in pan. Sprinkle the fish with the herbes de provence. When the oil is hot, add the steaks and cook for about 10 minutes on each side. Assemble the sandwiches by spreading the mayo mixture on the both sides of the bread, placing arugula on the bottom slice, laying the hot fish on top of the arugula and then covering with the top slice of bread. The hot fish wilts the arugula and releases the flavors. Cut in half and serve while hot.

Onion Tart

I used store bought pastry (not puff pastry), rolled out and placed in a shallow round baking dish. Caramelize two large onions in olive oil. Spread Dijon mustard on the pastry and place the onions on top. Bake at 400F for about 20 minutes or until the crust is browned.

Zucchini and Tomato Gratin

Cut zucchini into even-sized rounds. Cook them in a single layer in hot olive oil for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Chop an onion and cook it in olive oil until it is soft. Slice the tomatoes in even-sized slices. Crush and chop a couple of cloves of garlic. Place the onions in the bottom of a baking dish. Add a layer of zucchini, a layer of tomatoes, sprinkle sea salt and some of the garlic. Continue to layer until all the zucchini and tomatoes are gone. Sprinkle shredded swiss, gruyère or emmental cheese on top. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes or until cheese is browned and bubbly. You can add herbes de provence to the tomato layer, if you wish.

(basic recipe from The Barefoot Contessa)

6 extra - large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Fruit of choice
Whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small glass and a pencil, draw 6 (3 1/2-inch) circles on each piece of paper. Turn the paper face-down on the baking sheets.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and a large pinch of salt on medium speed until frothy. Add 1 cup of the sugar and raise the speed to high until the egg whites form very stiff peaks. Whisk in the vanilla. Carefully fold the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar into the meringue. With a large star - shaped pastry tip, pipe a disc of meringue inside each circle. Pipe another layer around the edge to form the sides of the shells. (I did not pipe the meringues-- I just dropped them by large spoonfuls and spread them out a bit.)

Bake for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and crisp but not browned. Turn off the heat and allow the meringues to sit in the oven for 4 hours or overnight.

Bon appétit!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Life is good in the Bull City!

My first glimpse of Durham, North Carolina came my senior year in high school in 1976. My French Club (oui, I was Mademoiselle la Présidente- another reason why my sons call me a nerd) raised money for a trip to Québec during our Easter break. I was so excited. My first trip north of North Carolina and to another country! At this point in my life, I hadn't even been on a plane yet. I wasn't able to go to France with Mme Buchanan, my French teacher, the year before because my parents couldn't afford it. I don't think I even bothered to ask, just vowing to myself that I would indeed go someday (not quite the scene at Tara in Gone With The Wind when Scarlett O'Hara rips downs the curtains to make a dress but the same idea). We left Spruce Pine on a chartered bus with a great driver we nicknamed Pierre. Our first stop was the bus station in Durham. I have no idea why we stopped. Gas, maybe? Certainly no other passengers. Anyway, that was all I remember of Durham.
My senior year at ASU, I decided to apply for a teaching position at Durham Academy. A friend from Chapel Hill told me about the independent school. It was the only "real" only job I applied for. My roommate interviewed in Raleigh while I was at DA interviewing in the spring of 1980. Two weeks later, Rob Hershey, then head of school, called me up and offered me the job. I immediately accepted. I knew I wanted to teach middle school French and I really liked all the people I met when I interviewed. Seventh grade boys? Bring them on. No match for a bossy girl, the oldest of four, from the Appalachian Mountains. I moved to Chapel Hill, where I lived for two years, first with a woman who worked at UNC's dental school and then with a friend from home. Chapel Hill and I didn't really click so when marriage happened, I happily moved to Durham.
Twenty-seven years later I am still here. I've lived in apartments and several different houses (always in the same zip code, though, I now realize). I've driven on most of the streets of Durham, carting my boys to basketball and baseball practices and games, going to various community service projects with students, checking out books at the libraries, shopping for bargains at thrift shops and the malls, of course, visiting friends and taking the boys to visit friends, just to mention a few of our activities over the years.
What struck me most upon my return to Durham from my sabbatical in France was how much I love this city. I hadn't really given it much thought before I left for six months. Changes were beginning to happen in downtown. Old tobacco buildings (the name Bull Durham comes from the cigarette and chewing tobacco business that was here) were being renovated, new restaurants were coming to town, the Nasher art museum had been built at Duke. Wool E. Bull already had his new home at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (the DBAP as opposed to the old one, the DAP, of Bull Durham movie fame). When I returned in December, one of the first things my BFF Martha did was toss me in her mini-van for a tour. We drove by the Durham Performing Arts Center (the DPAC-- see a pattern here?), the new bus station, Central Park where the Farmers' Market is held each Saturday (and Wednesday afternoons during the summer), down Ninth Street to have a bagel at Bruegger's, just to name a few of the sights on the tour.
I was glad to be home! I did have a moment of panic, though, when shopping for Christmas gifts at Southpoint Mall. It is relatively new and beautiful at Christmas time because of the huge outdoor lighted tree in front of the cinéma. I was inside, though, and there were so many people, all of them speaking English and rushing around. All of a sudden, I felt very claustrophobic and had to get out. I was simply overwhelmed. Post-France traumatic syndrome? Withdrawal pains from hearing and speaking only French, the most beautiful language in the world?
I more or less eased back into American life-- high school and college basketball games, back to dressing up for school, occasional fast food meals, reading the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper in English every morning (and seeing my final column sent from France in print- quite a thrill). I imagine everyone around me got very, very tired of hearing me start a sentence with "In Arles, we..." or "In France, they..." I still use Pardon whenever I wish to excuse myself. I still talk about the glorious food and sights that I saw. I now try to teach my students practical words and expressions I learned. I chat on-line occasionally with Chef Érick to find out what he is cooking and eating. I email the friends I made. I try new recipes. I've discovered new restaurants and look forward to discovering more. I am back in Durham, proud to be an American, proud to live in this city.
Here are a few of my local favorites...
  • The Wine Authorities (the rosé garden will get its own blog entry soon!)
  • Foster's Market coffee, scones and fresh salads
  • Saturday mornings at the Durham Farmers' Market (with a cup of Foster's coffee in my hand!)
  • Durham Bulls baseball games (BBQ sandwiches, hot dogs, nachos and cold beer) on a warm spring/summer evening
  • French movies (with popcorn, of course) at the Carolina Theatre
  • Dinner at Watts Grocery - they use local produce (the Ponzi Pinot Gris there is so good)
  • Chatham Hill Winery in Morrisville- Marek's wine is amazing; 4th Friday evenings there after work are quite a treat, especially if Nancy is working at the tasting bar
  • Elmo's Diner on Ninth Street for breakfast- omelets, grits, biscuits, etc.
  • Nantucket Grill at Sutton Station on a Saturday night- sitting outside, good wine, to die for desserts made on the premises, live music
  • Guglhupf Bakery's bread and pains au chocolat
  • Dinner at Pop's or Rue Cler with the Arles 6-- eating anywhere with the Arles 6!! (Let's go back to France, mes amis!)
  • Saladelia's hummus and tabouli salads and warm pita bread (the BFF loves their Heath Bar cookies)
  • Pulcinella's pizza and lasagna- I do plan to try other things on the menu!
  • Lamb from Costco (to be stuffed with anchovies and garlic)
  • Vin Rouge restaurant on a summer evening-- outdoor seating, great food and wine (mussels- oh là là)
  • Cooking at C'est si Bon! with Dorette- the cooking is so much fun that eating is almost anticlimactic (almost, but not quite!!)
  • Wandering the aisles of A Southern Season just to gaze at all of the French offerings
  • Four Eleven's artichoke dip and their black pepper angel hair pasta with salmon
  • Drinks at City Beverage- yummy margaritas and beer-batter fried asparagus
  • Grilled burgers and wine on the deck of our townhome- nice shade,watching herbs, tomatoes and sunflowers grow, listening to music... ah oui, la vie est très bonne!
I will continue to update this list as the summer progresses and I have more time to pursue eating adventures in and around Durham. I do need to research future columns for the Herald-Sun!

This recipe for scones is from my friend and colleague Daniela Harrell. It is so easy and so good. I prefer using yogurt instead of milk.

Quick Scones

Strawberries are in season! Serve these pastries with ripe juicy berries and whipped cream. Or serve them hot with butter and jam.

2 c. all-purpose flour (I used organic pre-sifted Gold Medal)
¼ c. granulated sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ c. cold butter
½ c. currants, raisins, or other dried fruit, if desired
1 egg
2/3 c. milk or ¾ c. (175 ml) plain yogurt (the yogurt produces a moister scone)
egg yolk for brushing tops
granulated sugar for sprinkling or fruit preserves

In large bowl, put flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and cut in until crumbly. Stir in dried fruit, if using. Make a well in the center.

In small bowl, beat egg until frothy. Pour into well. Stir in milk or yogurt slowly with a fork, stirring until a sof dough forms. Turn out on lightly floured surface. Knead 8-10 times. Divide into 2 equal parts. Pat each into a 6-inch circle. Transfer to greased baking sheet. Brush tops with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar. Score each top into 6 pie-shaped markings. Bake in 425F oven for 15 minutes until risen and browned slightly. Brush with fruit preserves after removing from oven, if desired.

Bon appétit! Bonnes vacances!