Sunday, July 29, 2012

Birthday week at the beach

This is what the Atlantic Ocean offered up to me for my birthday this year.  It was our last full day at Sunset and I had just about given up hope.  I spend a lot of my time at the beach wandering up and down searching for sand dollars and shells.  There are very few shells, though, and mostly broken sand dollars.  But the Ex-Ex looked down and spotted the small one and, just a few minutes later, the large one washed up right at my feet.  Bon anniversaire!
It was a lovely day.  I spent the whole day on the beach (and have the sunburn to prove it!), walking, reading, and watching my "boys" play.
The Ex-Ex bought himself a new hat to protect his ears from the sun.  (He grew up in Nebraska, the son and grandson of cattle ranchers, so he is not a Drugstore Cowboy.)
Sons 1 and 2 were there, livening up the action on our little stretch of beach at the 35th street access.
I no longer participate in their games.  That ended when they were around 8 years old and their level of athletic prowess far outstripped mine.  (And they are also unashamedly competitive.)
I would have found it difficult to play this year anyway because I attempted to slice off the end of my left index finger.
Note to self:  Do not attempt to open a package of tacos with a knife.  Use kitchen scissors.
It hurt like heck.  We were at the BFF's rented house for dinner (we just happened to rent the same week they did-- imagine that).  She and her nephew tended to my injury while I tried not to look at the blood running down my finger.  Her Son #1 is quite a fisherman and cook now that he is all grown up.  He caught some flounder and made fish tacos (with the help of his main squeeze).  He also smoked some ribs.  The BFF generously opened a bottle of Tavel rosé (I am not sure we shared it with anyone, though, to be perfectly honest) in honor of the week.

Merci, Betty Boop!!
It was a relaxing week, all in all.  We made friends with Gabby, the bartender par excellence at Crabby Oddwaters.  I made Shrimp and Grits, with the help of my sous-chef, Son #2, our last night there.  I sipped Rosé Pamplemousse as my apéritif  most evenings. (Just dry rosé and grapefruit juice-- recipe from Mme P- we sipped them at her house while in France.)
I read some good books.

  • Paris Revealed: The Secret Life of a City by Stephen Clarke (humourously written info about Paris by a Brit who lives there-- wish I had read it before the July BFF trip!)
  • Tender at the Bone:  Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl (beautifully written memoir about loving food and the pain of growing up by the best food writer I can think of- great recipes included- I can't wait to attempt a few of them)
  • Mission to Paris by Alan Furst (an action-packed novel set in Paris on the eve of WWII)
  • The Skinny Rules:  The Simple Nonnegotiable Principles for Getting Thin by Bob Harper (sensible guide to eating by a guy who knows his stuff-- he had me at oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast)
  • Van Gogh, The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (still working on this one- a new theory about Vincent's death- very well-written)
I came home to find a package in my mailbox from my Sister-in-law (or Belle-Soeur, in French).  I've known her for 30 years but had no idea she is so creative (or funny).  While in Paris, in our little rented apartment in the 3e arrondissement, the lights went out one night about 11:30 pm, and she came to the rescue with her penlight.  She also had a spoon in her purse that came in handy for eating a luscious boule au chocolat one day (read this post for the full story).  So, she sent me my own Survival Kit.
Part 1-

Part 2

And the explanation.

(Here's the story of the movie escapade.)
It was a lovely week of sunsets

and sunrises.

Bon appétit à toutes et à tous!  Et bon anniversaire to all Leos out there!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Happy Second Third!

One's life story can take interesting twists and turns.  Ours sure did.  The Ex-Ex and I were married on July 24, 1982 in the First Baptist Church in Spruce Pine, my hometown way up in the Appalachian Mountains.  It was a small wedding.  We paid for it ourselves.  We look like we are 12 (of course, every one under 30 looks 12 to me these days!).  Oui, I was a brunette once upon a time.  And the Ex-Ex had a lovely head of hair.
I wore my aunt's wedding dress.  We were very close at the time.  My college roommate was my maid of honor.  My sisters were in the wedding, too, in their yellow homemade dresses.  We were surrounded mostly by family and a few friends from high school, college, and Durham Academy, where we both worked even way back then (it's where we met).  We honeymooned along the Blue Ridge Parkway, hiking and exploring.  We made it all the way to Roanoke, Virginia, before the money ran out and we had to head home to our new apartment.
Thirty years, two kids, four different houses, several cats, various cars, one separation and divorce and one reconciliation later, here we are.  Whenever anyone asks the Ex-Ex for the story, he replies "You'll have to read the book."  The one I am working on.  The Sabbatical Chef.  The one I hope will be finished this time next year.
(Photos by Rick Bland)
I am listening to Chico and The Gypsies chantent Charles Aznavour as I write this.  Lovely music.  I bought the CD at the Sunday market in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Bon appétit et bon anniversaire de mariage!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Paris + Eiffel Tower + Rue Cler

The BFF-ers and I headed over to the Tour Eiffel on Day 2 of our Paris adventure.  I had managed to snag tickets to the second floor on-line at the last minute, but the catch was we had to be in line by 8:45 am.  Two of my fellow travelers had never been to Paris, much less to the top, so I was really happy to get those tickets.  We had two extras because two of the gals were off doing their own thing (they had already been to the top and had other sights to see).  We looked at the very, very long line of people without tickets
(this is what the line looked like from the top)

and chose a mom and daughter to give our extras to.  And it turned out they were from Norway!  Good karma here (the Ex-Ex and Sister-in-law are of Norwegian descent).
When we got to the second floor, we discovered that we could indeed buy tickets to the third floor so up we went for spectacular views of the entire city.
Invalides (Coucou, Napoléon!)
The Grand Palais (it's still there, Arles Lucy!)
The Pont Alexandre III and la Seine
And Sacré Coeur, the BFF's fav.
After all that time spent in a much higher altitude, we were hungry, of course, so we headed to one of my favorite streets, Rue Cler.  We chose a restaurant I know quite well for our lunch-
Not only is the food good, it's a great place to people watch.  Lots of tourists are there since Rick Steves  writes about this street in his Paris books, but there are also quite a few locals there having lunch and shopping for their daily supplies.  (On Rue Cler, there is a bakery, a cheese shop, and the pâtisserie where the last blog's desserts were purchased and consumed, as well as several restaurants, a post office, a fruit and vegetable seller, a wine shop with lots of rosés in the window, a Florame essential oils shop, etc.)
For lunch, I chose duck confit since it had been quite a while since I had eaten any, but two of the ladies chose the vegetable quiche.

(We also ran into Bruce Springsteen, by the way... at least a huge poster of him.  He was performing in Paris for two nights.  I think that we all would have agreed that he could eat croissants...  Am I right, ladies?)
Pardon... I digress.
Anyway, I miss Paris.  I miss France.  I miss objets d'art underpants.  Couldn't help that one.  I didn't buy any though, but I heard that Ms. Arizona brought some home.  The July sales were on, after all.  Enough poetry.
At the airport on the way home, I picked up a copy of Stephen Clarke's latest book.  I buy just about any and every book about France, so I decided to add this one to my collection.
I've read all of his Merde books and Talk to the Snail and enjoyed them tremendously.  So, I figured that since I was still sorta kinda in Paris, I would buy this one.  I so wish that I had read it before heading to Paris.  It is a great book.  With his English sense of humor, he tells many tales about the city and gives great advice to any one visiting or hoping to live there.  He even mentions a restaurant that was very near the apartment we stayed in close to the Temple métro stop.  This will be required reading before I take the next adult group with me to traipse around the City of Light.  Next, I plan to buy 1000 Years of Annoying the French.  It sounds very educational, although I personally try to never annoy anyone French.
This afternoon, in light of my longing for France, I googled vegetable quiche recipes and came up with a winner.  I discovered Jennifer and her blog, use real butter.   So, here is my latest creation.

I even had enough leftovers to make a second, crustless one.  Miam, miam, as the Frenchies say!

Roasted Vegetable Quiche

1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled (optional) and diced (medium dice)
1 small eggplant, diced (medium dice)
1 medium bell pepper (I used a red one), diced (medium to large dice)
(I added a zucchini, too, diced.)
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt (I used some from France with herbs added)

I bunch kale (about 6-8 stems), washed and torn
1 medium onion, sliced thin
(I added one clove of garlic, minced)
Olive oil

1 pie crust (homemade or store bought)

1 1/2 c. Gruyère cheese, grated
1 Tbsp. flour
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c. milk
1/4 tsp. salt (once again, I used salt with herbes mixed in)

Pie Crust
from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

1 1/4 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. shortening or lard
3-4 tsp. cold water

Set the oven to 450˚F.
Mix flour and salt in a mixing bowl.  Cut shortening into flour to form pea-sized pieces.  Sprinkle water over the mixture and toss with fork until all is moistened.  Form dough into a ball and roll out on lightly floured surface to about 12-inches in diameter.  Press and form into a 9-inch pan.  Line the crust with foil and bake for 5 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking for another 7 minutes.  Remove from oven.

(I used my go-to pie crust recipe from Even More Special-- it was already made and just needed to thaw.)

Vinegar Pie Crust
makes 4 crusts
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. shortening (I use butter)
1/2 c. water
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 425˚F if pie shells are to be baked.
In large bowl, mix flour, salt, and sugar together.  Cut in shortening or butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Combine water, vinegar, and egg.  Beat mixture with a fork.  Gradually pour egg mixture into dry ingredients.  Mix until pastry holds together; dough will be slightly sticky.
Divide into four flat disks and dust lightly with flour.  Cover with waxed paper.  Chill one hour.
Roll out on floured surface to fit four 9-inch pans.  (Or use as many as you need and freeze the rest.)
Place dough in pan.  For baked shell, prick pie crust and bake for 10 minutes.  Leave unpricked for filled pies and bake as directed in recipes.

Preheat oven to 425˚F.  Toss the diced potato, eggplant, and pepper (and any other vegetable you wish, but not the onion and kale) with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste in a wide baking dish so that the vegetables sit in a single layer.  Roast for 30 minutes, remove from oven and let cool.
In a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions, stirring them to avoid burning.  Cook them for about 20 minutes until caramelized (with a few minutes left, I added the garlic), then remove from pan.  In the same pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on high heat and sauté the kale until cooked.  Remove from pan and roughly chop the kale.

In a large bowl, toss the vegetables together.  In a separate bowl, toss the cheese and flour together and then mix the cheese in with the vegetables.  Fill the pie crust with the vegetable-cheese mix.  Beat the eggs and stir in the milk and salt.  Pour the milk over the vegetables and bake the quiche for 35-40 minutes.  Let the quiche rest out of the oven for 15 minutes before serving.

Crustless Quiche
I had leftover vegetables and milk-egg mixture, so I buttered an extra pan and baked the rest without a crust.  I baked it in the oven at the same time as the other one for the same amount of time.  It was really good, too.

Bon appétit, Paris!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A fit of eatin'

You never know when you will be hit by a fit of eatin' so you'd best be prepared.  Considering I am rarely prepared for anything, I was doubly impressed with my sister-in-law while in France.  She carries a rather small purse that doesn't even hint at its contents (as opposed to mine which is two sizes too big and I can never find what I need when I need it).  She came through with several necessary items at just the right time, but the most important of which was a spoon.  Because you just never know.
Some snacks do not need an eating utensil.  None of ones found in the métro do.  Just 2 euros, please.
Meringues do not require a spoon or fork.
If push comes to shove, you can eat a cherry tart with your fingers.  Not entirely civilized, but possible.
Mine on the Air France flight home was delicious, by the way.  (So was the champagne apéritif.  Merci, Air France!)

Macarons are finger food.  Beautiful finger food.  Works of art, really.  This one is was cassis flavor.
Mme Boop's chocolate cake, gâteau au chocolat, can be eaten with one's fingers, too, if one is overcome by a fit of eatin' and there are no forks available.

But for some desserts, a spoon is de rigueur, a necessity.  Such as ice cream, la glace.

Chocolate or coffee flavor.
Mme P's delightful mousse au chocolat requires a spoon.
A fork or spoon is needed for this raspberry creation.
And also for this one.

And it would just be plain old gauche to eat this without a spoon or fork.  Mon dieu!

You could, conceivably, get away with eating these with your fingers, dipping them into the crème Chantilly, 

but the Frenchies serving you or sitting at the table next to you might get upset with les Américaines.
We discovered just how prepared my sister-in-law was while checking out the pastry window pictured above on Rue Cler in Paris.  We all settled on our choices, sister-in-law's the only one that really required an eating utensil.  She just whipped one out of her purse, to which the BFF said without blinking "You just never know when you'll be hit by a fit of eatin', do you?"  So, that became a theme throughout our stay in France.
She goes in for the kill--

She is almost there.
The rest of us were ready to pounce on it, too, providing she would share the spoon. (Which she did.)
The next time it came in handy was with the rhubarb compote.  (By this time, others had stashed plastic spoons in their bags.)
Sister-in-law (with the help of the Ex-Ex, her little brother), left this note for JC before she hopped in her car to return home after the trip.

Just too thoughtful, isn't she??  We all have to look after each other in this big old world of eatin'.
Here's to us, mes amies!

With cherries in season now and after tasting delicious cherry tarts in France, I found this recipe.  The BFF loves apple tarte tatin, so I thought this one would be appropriate.

Cherry Tarte Tatin
8 servings

1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 1/4 lbs. sweet cherries, pitted and sliced in half
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, cut into 8 slices
1 1/2 Tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. almond extract (optional)
Confectioner's sugar

Roll the pastry dough into an 11-inch circle and chill.  Toss the cherries in 1 Tbsp. flour and set them aside.
Sprinkle the sugar across the bottom of a 10-inch overproof skillet and then layer the prepared cherries along with the slices of butter over the sugar.  Sprinkle the cherries with 1 1/2 Tbsp. of water mixed with the almond extract, if using, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Preheat oven to 375˚F.  Continue cooking the cherries for an additional 18-22 minutes, slightly longer if using frozen cherries, until the juices have reduced, but the cherries have not dried out.  Remove the skillet from the heat and drape the pastry over the cherries, fitting the overhanging pastry down between the fruit and the sides of the skillet.
Bake the tart in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry turns golden brown.  Cool the tart in the skillet before inverting it onto a serving platter.
You can dust it with confectioners' sugar and serve with whipped cream, if you wish.

Bon appétit, to eaters everywhere!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

BFF Trip 2012

I honestly have no idea where to begin or how to put the past two weeks into words.  So, I will start here, with this circle of friends.  And I will attempt to make sense of how we all came together.
It started three years ago with my pastis-pouring friend whom I met on the social networking website New York in French.  He is the crazy glue that holds us all together.  La colle folle??
(Pictured here pouring drinks for his guests.  He prepared my sister-in-law's first ever pastis.  A proud moment for a Provençal Frenchie!)

Then M. Pastis introduced me to his son's English teacher, Mme P, pictured here with her beautiful daughters.
Mme P and I now have an exchange program in place with our schools so we get to spend time together each spring.  (If you are a regular reader, you know all about this!)
I can't leave out her handsome husband--
Who made this for us in the cement around their pool.  What a great surprise for both of us.
And here is the son (my 7th and 8th grade girls would never forgive me if I didn't include his photo), shown here with Ms. Arizona.

Add in my BFF group, pictured among the lavender at the Abbaye de Sénanque.

Next stir in Lyn and Dave, my friends from home, pictured with M. Pastis' lovely wife.

They are exchanging houses with M. Pastis' mom, pictured here with moi and Dave's sister.

Then comes Bonnie, whom I met on-line through an AATF colleague here in NC, but not face-to-face until this evening.
She and her husband are living in France for a few months and met M. Pastis after I sent out an email asking if anyone was interested in exchanging houses with his mom.
And last, but certainly not least, mix in Jim and Connie.

M. Pastis met her on NYIF also and they have become great friends.  He introduced me to her and we have been e-pals, but once again, we hadn't met face-to-face until this evening.  Her sister, Carole Fredericks, was a singer living in Paris until her untimely death at the age of 49.  Connie keeps her sister's memory and work alive through the Carole D. Fredericks Foundation.  (As a French teacher, I must find out more about this and use some of her materials in my class this year.)
While in Paris, I visited her grave in Montmartre.

We discovered that Carole (and their big brother Taj Mahal) didn't get all the talent in the family.  M. Pastis had already told me that Connie has quite a voice, so I asked her if she would sing for us.  She willingly obliged and we were enthralled as she serenaded us under the stars (they have the Big Dipper in France, too!) in M. Pastis' garden.
She and I are both huge Louis Armstrong fans and love his rendition of La Vie en Rose so she chose that song for us.
What a wonderful evening and the time spent with old and new friends was the absolute best I could ever have hoped for as I planned this trip.
Merci from the bottom of my heart to the two people who helped me make this happen--
On to the food--
M. Pastis prepared a cold buffet for us featuring, among other dishes-
(I ate as much melon as I possibly could while in France.  The taste is heavenly. Pure summer Provence sunshine.)
This salad was delicious, served with a vinaigrette sauce very heavy on the Dijon mustard, according to  the chef. (The sauce was also great on his cold potato and ham salad.)
And a very simple-to-make tomato-goat cheese tart-
Pie crust (store bought or homemade), fresh goat cheese, cherry tomatoes cut in half, herbes de Provence, baked until crust browns-- voilà!  Served with chilled rosé, preferably from Tavel, bien sûr.
We even sipped a lovely drink made with rosé and grapefruit juice.  I think that this as yet unnamed BFF enjoyed it immensely.

Mme P made her famous best in the whole world mousse au chocolat for dessert.
An enchanted evening.
Bon appétit to all my BFF friends!  Je vous adore tous et toutes!