Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pierre Hermé et moi

When I was in Paris last month (Don't you just love the way that rolls off my keyboard?  As if I am a big shot?  Actually, I am still in awe of the fact that I get to go to Paris at all, let alone two times in the space of two months-- but back to today's story...), I went into FNAC, kind of the French version of Barnes and Noble-- books, music, movies- but on a larger scale.  There is one right around the corner from the hotel my students and I will stay at next week.  This is the first book that caught my eye.  It is a delightful cookbook put together by Soledad Bravi, a cartoonist who wanted to learn some tricks for making better cakes, and Pierre Hermé, my macaron idol.  I couldn't resist it, even at 19.90 euros.  The drawings alone are enough to buy the book, but to have simplified recipes from M. Hermé?  Oui!  Here is one of Soledad's quotes:  "Je fais un livre avec Pierre Hermé, oui je sais, il a trop de chance."  "I am making a book with Pierre Hermé, yes I know, he is very lucky."

I decided to start with Riz au lait vanillé.  Vanilla rice pudding.  It is one of my favorites.  I wanted to see how Pierre would make it.

Infuse the milk with vanilla bean-- my kitchen smelled heavenly.  Will someone get to work on the camera that records smells as well as photos, please?

Cook the rice in the vanilla milk

Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to "rest"

Add in mascarpone

Experiment... add in some frozen cherries (fresh would be better, but not the season, alas)

Taste three versions- without mascarpone, with, with cherries

How would I eat it?  Which did I like best?  Truthfully, warm before it went into the refrigerator, no cheese or cherries mixed it.  (Yes, of course, I sampled it then, too!)  But all versions are good, and all are different.

I ate some for dessert when I was in Senlis in January.  We had dinner at Le Scaramouche.  The riz au lait was served with little bits of candied fruit.  Isn't it beautiful?

I am translating from the French recipe.

Riz au lait vanillé
Prepare the evening before

125 g of round grain rice (Arborio-- the same kind as for risotto-- this is about 3/4 cup)
600 g of whole milk (about 2 2/3 cup)
2 vanilla beans with the grains
1 pinch of fleur de sel salt (use sea salt, if you have it-- I just happen to have fleur de sel thanks to La Brune)
30 g of sugar (about 1/8 cup-- the French do not make their desserts as sweet as we Americans do... I guess you can add more sugar, if you wish, but don't overpower the dish by making it too sweet- you can serve it with fruit to sweeten- see Pierre's suggestions at the end of the recipe)
400 g of mascarpone (I found it in containers of 225 g each)

I cut the vanilla beans in two, longwise, I scrap the interior with a knife in order to get all the seeds.

I bring the milk, with the vanilla seeds and the pods, to a boil.  I take it off the heat and I cover the top of the pot with plastic wrap in order to let the vanilla infuse the milk for 30 minutes.

I strain the milk with a sieve (I used cheesecloth because I do not have a sieve that fine) in order to catch the fibers of the vanilla bean, I crush the pods in order not to lose any of the flavor and I leave the seeds.  I put the vanilla milk back into the pot.  I add the rice, the salt, and the sugar, I mix it all before bringing it to a boil.  As soon as it begins to boil, I lower the heat and gently cook it for about 20 minutes, stirring it regularly because it sticks quickly.  The rice should be "al dente."

I pour the mixture into a dish (it calls for a 20 cm one-- I have no clue what size that is!  I just chose one that looked like it would all fit into, leaving room for the addition of the mascarpone later.).  I put plastic film over it, making sure the film touches the surface of the rice mixture, and let it cool for 2 hours before placing it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day

I put the mascarpone in a bowl and stir it in order to make it smooth.  I add it to the rice (or add the rice to it) and I stir.  It's ready!

A little extra from Pierre Hermé

The rice pudding is not very sweet on purpose because this way one can add honey, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, cooked fruit or dates cooked in tea and lemon.  (I didn't try the dates but am including the recipe below. Afterwards, I thought that fruit preserves from Bonne Maman- maybe blueberries, would be delicious.)

Dates in tea
Prepare the evening before

200 g of dates
100 g of water
12 g of Earl Grey tea
5 g of sugar
10 g of lemon juice
1 drop of Tabasco

I heat the water to 80˚C.  I add the tea and allow it to infuse for 3 minutes, but no longer because that would make it too strong and bad; I filter it without pressing on the tea bag or leaves.

I put the whole dates (with pits) in a pot and cover them with the hot tea.  I add the sugar, the lemon juice and the Tabasco.

I put it on very low heat and let it cook for 15 minutes.  I pour it into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and allow it to soak overnight at room temperature.

The next day

I drain the dates, remove the pits, and cut them into 6-8 pieces lengthwise.  I put them in the refrigerator.

I can eat them with rice pudding or with plain yogurt.

Bon appétit and merci, Pierre Hermé and Soledad Bravi!  I love your book!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Comfort food

Here in the South (I have only lived in the South and in France, so I cannot speak for other regions), when there is a tragedy, we cook.  I made dozens and dozens of cookies when three of our basketball team members were injured in a car crash a month or so ago.  Many of my family memories revolve around food after a death.  Southerners bring casseroles, fried chicken, pies, cakes, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and any number of other specialities.  Church families arrange dinners for the bereaved.  It is what we do when we don't know what else to do to help out.  We cook.  And we cook comfort food.  By the time I left my mom's house on Saturday, the food had started arriving.  My cousin made a delicious beef stew (and told me that her secret ingredient is dry onion soup mix), the mom of one of my brother's friends made a chicken casserole and a chocolate pie.  The funeral home sent over a tray of sandwiches.  My grand nephew, who is learning his way around the kitchen (I hope that he goes to culinary school one of these days), made chicken salad while waiting for us to come home after my brother died.  My sister and his mom, my favorite niece, fussed at him for messing up the kitchen, but it was only half-hearted fussing.  I shared with him that I clean up as I go along and then, after dinner, there isn't much to do.  One of my very good friends called today to ask if she could bring food over.  I told her that she and I can go out for dinner later in the week while her husband and the Ex-Ex are out of town.  No dishes to wash that way.  We both stay at school late anyway, so we can have a nice quiet evening after a not so quiet day with middle schoolers.

So what is in that beautiful blue pot?  A recipe I found on the King Arthur Flour website.  It screamed comfort food so I decided to make it for our dinner tonight.  The Ex-Ex ate two servings.  I think he liked it.

Turkey and Dumplings
8 servings

I made it all in my blue pot.  The recipe says to cook it in one pot, then transfer it to a baking dish.  My blue pot is ovenproof so I didn't see the need to dirty another dish!

  • 1 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (chives, parsley), or 2 tablespoons dried (optional)--I used herbes de Provence
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
pot pie filling
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 3 cups turkey stock, or a combination of stock and leftover gravy -- I used chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon dry thyme-- herbes de Provence again here
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cups diced cooked turkey or chicken-- I stopped off at Harris Teeter and bought a rotisserie chicken to use
  • 2 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables-- I bought a mixture of frozen peas, carrots, and green beans
1. For the dumplings: Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Stir in the herbs, if using. Cover and refrigerate this mixture while you're making the pot pie filling.

2. For the pot pie filling: Melt the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, whisking it into the roux to prevent lumps. When all the stock and/or gravy is added, season with the thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes, then stir in the meat and vegetables.

4. Return the filling to a simmer, and transfer to a 4-quart baking dish with a lid. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

5. To assemble: Once the hot filling is in the dish, whisk the buttermilk and egg together, and add, all at once, to the dry mixture.

6. Stir together until evenly moistened.

7. Scoop the batter on top of the simmering liquid, leaving space between the dumplings (they'll almost double as the cook). Put the lid on top, and bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes.  At least 30 minutes in order for the biscuits/dumplings to be cooked completely.

Bon appétit to my family and to all my very caring friends. I love you all.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Saying good-bye

How do you say a final good-bye to someone who has been in your life for as long as you can remember?  Someone who has known you through the good, the bad and the ugly and loves you anyway just because?  Someone who shares the same parents, sisters, DNA, and early memories?

My little brother died yesterday.  I have trouble using "passed" or "passed on."  I don't know why.  I just do.  He was only 54 years old.  He was born June 27, 1960 in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, 23 months after me.  I didn't want him.  I wanted Mama to take him back to the hospital.  Supposedly, we can't remember things that happen to us before the age of 3.  Freud called that "childhood amnesia" and thought that around age 9 we erase or lose early memories. I read once that our earliest memories are usually something scary or traumatic.  (I am practicing amateur psychology here.)  And maybe I am confusing his birth with that of my sister who is three years younger than me.  I do remember sitting on a bed with him and letting him roll off into the floor.  He survived that, but I worried about it.  No, I did not push him.  By that time, I imagine he had grown on me.

I choose to remember him as he is in this photo.  That's when I knew him best.  I left Spruce Pine behind at the age of 19, never living at home again.  We were typical kids.  We played together a lot. Spent time at our grandparents' farm playing outside.  Weekends camping out at Lake James.  Eating foot-long hot dogs on Friday nights because Ma was too tired to cook after a long week of work. Throwing snowballs on days off from school. Fighting.  Saying mean things.  He had to put up with three sisters.  He was always getting stitches or a cast.  I decided one day that dropping Coke bottles out of the window of my grandparents' garage would be fun.  I didn't know he was under that window.  That scared me plenty.  Lots of blood and stitches.  I remember Daddy made me take him along with me to football games.  I didn't like that one bit and I am sure I let him know it.  David and I played with football trading cards.  We made forts in the woods.  Growing up in our house wasn't easy.  We all carry scars from our childhoods, but I am not going to remember those or dwell on that.
David's kidneys failed.  He was never really a candidate for a transplant.  He talked as if that was going to happen early in the diagnosis.  We all kind of went along with him, but we knew it wouldn't happen.  He didn't follow his doctors orders and his body seemed to be in no shape to fight it other than with dialysis three times a week.  I spent time with him at Christmas at my mom's house.  All of us kids were there.  I am the only one who left Spruce Pine, so they have spent a lot more time together over the years.  They may fuss about it, but they are always there for each other.  My mom and sister took good care of him.  As good as he would let them.  I am grateful that my sister called me and that I went to see him in the hospital and in the nursing facility where he spent his last 24 hours.  I am grateful to Hospice of the Blue Ridge for their support and for keeping him comfortable.  The nurses and caregivers at Brookside Rehabilitation and Care were amazing, too.

I think that he is now with Daddy.  They are sitting on a boat in the middle of a lake, talking about Duke's win over Carolina, about the start of a new NASCAR season, smoking a cigarette (if you are allowed to do that in heaven) and just hanging out.  The weather is hot, but not too hot.  They don't care about fishing, just about riding in the boat.  They have an endless supply of gas and a good motor that will always start.  There is also an endless supply of Kentucky Fried Chicken in their heaven.  The fat content and calories don't matter and there is no more special, bland diet to follow.  You see, I think that is what heaven is all about.  You are at your happiest time with the people you love.  There are no more worries or illness.  You can watch your loved ones who are still on Earth, knowing that they will join you someday.  They will stumble through life the best they can, much the same way you did, without your help.  And that it will all be okay in the end.

Rest in peace, David.  You were loved.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

J'aime... I love....

Bonjour, Février!

The month of hearts has arrived.  I feel more inspired.  I am happy to say au revoir to Janvier.  I don't dislike Janvier.  But it isn't as inspiring as Février, in my humble opinion.  Maybe it is simply because I love hearts and now they are everywhere.  I found this heart carved from Volterra Italian alabaster at Barnes and Noble last night while roaming around looking for ways to spend a gift card.  The Ex-Ex got a couple of books and I got a new heart.  The check-out guy was funny.  He asked me if I wanted a bag for my purchases.  I told him no.  And he said "So, you are going to walk out carrying your heart on your sleeve."  He said that he just couldn't resist saying that.  My dad always accused me of wearing my heart on my sleeve.  For years I thought that must be a bad thing.  I've decided it isn't.

What else am I loving at the moment?  Memories of my trip to Paris just a couple of weeks ago. (Okay, so January isn't so bad, after all, if you get to spend a week of it in France...)  I had lunch with My Favorite Parisien, who lives in Tel Aviv now, but still has his Paris apartment and remains a French citizen.  Having lunch with friends is the ultimate treat to me.  Five days a week, I eat in my classroom surrounded by my 13 7th grade advisees.  So, lunch with a friend makes me feel like a grown-up.  MFP and I made a date (via What'sApp-- free texting to Paris and Tel Aviv and anywhere in the world, mes amis- and the app is free) for Sunday brunch.  After checking out the Bastille market, I wandered to the Marais and made my way to the restaurant.

This restaurant is owned by one of MFP's friends.  We were offered glasses of champagne.

A very civilized way to start a 2-hour lunch, n'est-ce pas?  You know what I love best about eating in France?  Well, other than great food in beautiful places.  You are never rushed.  We arrived right as the restaurant opened, at 12:00, and there were two or three other tables already seated.  Within 45 minutes, there was a steady line of customers wanting tables.  They were told to come back in two hours.  I enjoyed our window table and didn't even consider hurrying.  Le Brunch du Dimanche specials were either bagels with Philadelphia (can you guess what is making a splash in France--  oui, cream cheese) or un hamburger sur buns.  I admit to getting tickled over the buns part.  Neither MFP nor the server understood what I was giggling about.  Of course, the buns was/were French-style and delicious.  In the middle of my plate is fromage blanc with raspberry coulis.  Isn't it beautiful?

My first Parisian burger.  It was very good.
Lunch with MFP was so much fun, as always.  Back in October, he agreed to take on this year's student group in March so I will see him again very soon.  And this time, he won't leave us at the train station.  Since we are not having a home stay this year, he will board the train with us for three days in Arles.

After lunch, we went to visit La Mémorial de la Shoah, the Holocaust Memorial.  I've walked past it before, but I've never visited.  In light of the tragedies that struck Paris in January, I decided to pay my respects by visiting this memorial.  It is featured in Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, the story of a young girl during La Rafle, the round-up of the Jews in July 1942 in Paris.  MFP stayed with me while we listened to a panel discussion of the liberation of the death camps (with two survivors in the audience) and then he headed off to take care of some things that needed his attention.  I wandered around through the exhibits.  At the end, there was a film playing and I listened to a couple talking about their experiences post camp.

They were separated in the camps and found each other again at the end in the Hotel Lutetia in Paris. This hotel played a central role in WWII, from a place of refuge for people seeking to escape the Germans in 1939, to a place used by the Nazi to entertain guests beginning in 1940 to finally the center for displaced persons after the liberation of Paris in 1944.  The hotel is currently closed, undergoing renovation.  Someday I will stroll through the lobby.  And I will think of this couple who made me laugh and cry as I listened to their story.

It was a wonderful trip.

Other things I love?

The book I am currently reading, a gift from MFP a couple of years ago.

It is a history of Paris told through selected métro stops.

I've just finished with Saint Denis, my favorite headless saint.  I even found a statue of him in Senlis while wandering around there with Mme M.

In keeping with the heart theme, I love this poster of a Matisse print that hangs in my stairwell.

I love the place I work.  It is a community, a family, of caring people.  After a recent car accident involving three of our basketball players, a mom made this quilt for one of the young men who is still hospitalized with brain injuries.  All of our upper schoolers are there.  At the moment, it is hanging in our gym.  I like to think of it hanging where #12 will be able to see it and know that he is loved.

After listening to a former student (from my first 6th grade class in 1980-81) read poems at his mom's memorial service, I started thinking about poetry.  I really do not know much about poetry and, truth be told, I haven't read a lot of it in my lifetime.  That needs to change.  (Send suggestions, s'il vous plaît.)  I do have one book, though, that was given to me in 1992 by the mom of one of my students.

She gave it to me to give to Son #1 and eventually he will get it.  But for now, it is in my bookcase. Thank you, Dianne Moss, mother of Ian.

Here is the title poem--

Honey, I Love
by Eloise Greenfield

I love
I love a lot of things, a whole lot of things
My cousin comes to visit and you know he's from the South
'Cause every word he says just kind of slides out of his mouth
I like the way he whistles and I like the way the walks
But honey, let me tell you that I LOVE the way he talks
I love the way my cousin talks
The day is hot and icky and the sun sticks to my skin
Mr. Davis turns the hose on, everybody jumps right in
The water stings my stomach and I feel so nice and cool
Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE a flying pool
I love to feel a flying pool
Renee comes out to play and brings her doll without a dress
I make a dress with paper and that doll sure looks a mess
We laugh so loud and long and hard the doll falls to the ground
Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE the laughing sound
I love to make the laughing sound
My uncle's car is crowded and there's lots of food to eat
We're going down the country where the church folks like to meet
I'm looking out the window at the cows and trees outside
Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE to take a ride
I love to take a family ride
My mama's on the sofa sewing buttons on my coat
I go and sit beside her, I'm through playing with my boat
I hold her arm and kiss it 'cause it feels so soft and warm
Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE my mama's arm
I love to kiss my mama's arm
It's not so late at night, but still I'm lying in my bed
I guess I need my rest, at least that's what my mama said
She told me not to cry 'cause she don't want to hear a peep
Honey, let me tell you I DON'T love to go to sleep
I do not love to go to sleep
But I love
I love a lot of things, a whole lot of things
And honey,
I love you, too.

I just discovered The Hot Sardines.  Before Christmas, I was roaming the aisles of Barnes and Noble, looking for a book for a friend.  David Lebovitz' My Paris Kitchen.  A song about Paris started playing and I went to the music department to ask about it.  Wake Up In Paris.

Bon appétit, Février, and to all people and things loved.